Final Reflections

         The very first fieldwork essay we read for this class revolved around a truck stop.  The fact that this was our first exposure to fieldwork was very significant to me, I think.  I came in not knowing what fieldwork was, so this initial essay by Rick Zollo really shaped my expectations of what the ultimate goal of this assignment was.  This was also aided by the fact that all the following fieldwork essays seemed to be not strictly fieldwork, but more narrative based with aspects of fieldwork interspersed.  Though again, this could be my own bias from assuming that the truck stop essay was the definition of fieldwork.  Regardless, I ended up writing my own essay with the structure and tone of the truck stop essay in mind more than any other thing we read. 

                Another piece that really had an impact on me was the Gary Smith article about basketball on an Indian reservation.  This was one of the more enjoyable articles, and didn’t even feel like fieldwork, because the author had chosen to completely remove himself from the story.  You could tell that his opinions were written into the piece, but for the most part he left himself out and let his descriptions do the talking for him.  He was showing us a story rather than telling it to us.  I really enjoyed that style as a reader.

                Finally, the essay about snake handling by Dennis Covington was interesting in terms of how it was formatted.  It jumped back and forth between action and background, narrative and analysis, constantly throughout the article.  I thought it gave the story a nice flow and really kept me interested as a reader.

                I tried to incorporate these specific aspects while writing my own fieldwork essay more than other techniques because they are what stood out to me.  From Zollo, I decided to write an essay that jumped around from place to place but in seeming continuity with each other.  Multiple trips to the field sites would get blended into a single narrative storyline.  From Smith, I went into deep analysis of every scene that I wanted to represent.  I had to cut some stuff out, but I tried to replicate his attention to detail and use of objective narrative voice.  Because of the nature of my paper, I couldn’t cut myself out completely.  But I tried to let the sites speak for themselves more than adding my own voice.  And from Covington, I organized my paper to jump back and forth between action and reaction.  I included my own thoughts interspersed around the actions that evoked them.  But I also did things that I can’t cleanly trace back to other authors that we read.  I wanted to place the reader within my shoes, giving them the perspective that I had.  I wanted them to see what I saw, and know what I thought.  If I could portray that, and give them that glimpse of what I thought about bar culture but leave it open ended, then they could make whatever conclusions they want.  I think the best writing is the one that allows the reader to come to whatever conclusions they need.  I tried to do the same in the memory narrative (not so much the cultural commentary, because the assignment itself doesn’t really allow that) because that is the kind of writing that appeals to me. 

                And while all of this influenced how I wrote this paper, none of it was an overly conscious process.  They all just played into this image in my head of how I wanted to write this paper.  Even as I was taking field notes, I was formulating this idea of how my observations were going to fit into my essay.  This made it easy to write, not only because I enjoyed the material but because I had this idea of what my paper should be already in my head.  These influences took the front seat while revising, because I was actively focused on getting it to achieve the effects that I wanted.  But while writing, it all just flowed out. 

                I really enjoyed the fieldwork essay more than anything else because it played to my two contradictory features as a writer.  It allowed me to be introspective and get my thought process out into the narrative.  But it also allowed me to be self conscious and not make the story about myself.  The topic wasn’t me, it was the bar.  So I was able to selfishly include myself while self-consciously excluding myself.  The memory narrative was more the former, while the cultural commentary was more the latter.  I think the fieldwork was a good blend of the two, at least for me personally, and that is why I enjoyed it. 

Sample of my fieldnotes

Sample of my fieldnotes



Last Tuesday

The other day, I was at a bar. 

Specifically, I was at Pappy’s Bar and Grill on a Tuesday night for my friend’s birthday.  It was surprisingly full considering it was a Tuesday.  There were probably 20 people there, while the streets and restaurants outside were empty.  We sat at the far end of the room, with the unique vantage point of being able to see everyone in the bar that night.  This was the first time that I considered Pappy’s to be a potential field site.

What are some of the cultural aspects of weekday bar hopping?  Well for one, there is a common language.  Blue Moon and Roman Coke wouldn’t mean much to a 6 year old (hopefully) but here it is the common tongue.  There is the ritual of how to order at the bar, as well as tipping procedures.  On the weekends, people are there to party, but that night, people were there for other reasons.  It was a lot more subdued. 

Is this where some of the ethical concerns come into play?  You can ask people why they are here, but unless it is for a birthday or other celebration, you won’t get far into the true motives.  Perhaps it is a form of escapism, or trying to gain social acceptance, or to forget about the past.  Maybe it’s just boredom.  But is it my place to pry into people’s personal psychologies in search of an overall bar culture?

What larger issues does this bring into the conversation?  By studying this bar, perhaps we are getting a glimpse into Middle America.  Everyone here appears to be middle class.  Those on the street aren’t allowed in, as they can’t afford it.  Also possibly the culture of drinking, and how age restrictions make it feel like a rite of passage.  Perhaps by understanding this bar, we can hope to understand what causes alcoholism and offenses of excess with the intent of preventing such occurrences. 

Anyways, that’s what went through my mind Tuesday at Pappy’s.

Cultural Commentary Mission Statement

I want to write about a relatively unexplored issue in the health care field, targeting a semi- informed audience.  My intent is to be both informative and convincing.  I hope to juxtapose aspects of academic and narrative writing to create a more holistic view of why this issue is a problem. 

My initial goal was to write a completely narrative-based story with a less obvious point.  However, as I wrote my first draft, I realized how multifaceted and far-reaching my argument was.  One single story could not fully encompass the problem.  However, it could scratch the surface and get one thinking about deeper problems.  As I was writing my draft, I had these bouts of opinionated thought that I jotted down.  Eventually I realized that this may be an effective way of writing.  So instead of separating them from the narrative, I interspersed them throughout my story.  I wanted to employ multiple perspectives from the start, and the use of pure opinion was a good way to transition between them.  Overall, it is similar to certain newspaper articles, and I think that the reason that format is so common is because it is effective.  I just hope that I didn’t get too academic in my opinions or too dull/unrelatable in my narratives. 

As far as the topic was concerned, I was a bit worried at first.  There are many things I feel strongly about, but not enough to turn into a 1000 word cultural commentary paper.  However, my friend showed me this article ( and I knew instantly this was something powerful.  I had always felt this, but never really been able to articulate it.  However, after reading this article, my passions just spilled out onto paper (or computer, whatever).  My first draft was about 200 words too long, and I cut out a lot of the analysis in the current draft to make it more reader friendly.  The point is: read this paper if you are at all interested in health care and the underserved.

Ideas for a cultural commentary

I want to be a doctor.  I will be applying to medical school in June.  I have shadowed a doctor extensively.  I volunteer at a county hospital in Oakland.  I have gotten my feet wet in the medical field and hope to go farther soon.

At this point in my career, it is important to begin thinking about the many ethical dilemmas that come into play in medicine.  One of the most pressing issues concerns underserved communities, and how to motivate young doctors to serve these populations, especially those of lower socio-economic status. 

The current system focuses on exposure to these populations by incorporating free clinics into the rotations for medical students.  The thought behind it is that exposure will help create a level of comfort with those types of patients.  The end goal is to foster a sense of altruism and “feeling good about yourself” for working with these patients.

However, as the paper “Learning the Moral Economy of Commodified Health Care” points out, this system has inherent faults.  Since the health care system in the US is based on profit for care, clinicians come to expect something in return for their services.  Normally this is money.  However, in a free clinic this doesn’t happen, so they come to expect something else.  They expect a moral economy, where in return for their services, they are able to “feel good” about themselves.  These student doctors feel that they are giving their time and effort out, and come to expect something from the patient in return, namely a sense of gratitude and a promise of personal responsibility in order to maintain the health provided by the clinician.  In these free clinics, the doctors become “ethical clinician-citizens” who hold the power of bestowing health upon those less fortunate, and follow their own personal moral system in order to treat all patients equally.  However, this unfair expectation leads to certain negative outcomes.  Clinicians begin to view patients as worthy of care based on how responsible they seem or how grateful they are.  They ignore any underlying factors or experiences that may affect how the patient acts in these clinics.  They view this line of work with a sense of entitlement.  It also allows for compromised care to be justified in free clinics.  Because it is seen a “you get what you pay for” system, it becomes alright to provide inadequate care in these clinics.  Students who aren’t properly trained are allowed to perform procedures they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to do.  Patients are expected to wait exorbitant amounts of time for single use treatments with no follow up, and do it all with a smile on their face. 

The end result of all this ranting is young doctors who, although trained in underserved communities, have reinforced negative stereotypes about such populations and free clinics in general.  Not only is this an unhealthy mentality for a health care provider to have, but it actually discourages clinicians from seeing such populations in the future. 

Obviously, I didn’t express the argument as well as the actual paper did.  I suggest reading it if you are interested.  But I’ve definitely seen this issue in practice, in all of my clinical experiences.  And the solution seems to be to emphasize an education that covers the root causes that lead to poverty, and how that affects the patient experience.  This understanding shifts the focus to the patient rather than being on the clinician and what they get out of it.  The system as currently formatted isn’t working, so maybe it’s time for this kind of change.  This is what I’d like to write about for my cultural commentary.

Reflections on “Balancing Act”

This memory has always been very vivid to me, but I never thought about it much before writing this narrative.  I never understood the significance of it, or even if there was any at all.  I think I remember it so well because my emotions were so strong that day, something I’m not used to.  But I never really thought about why they were so strong. 

Maybe at the time, I was too close to the incident to properly analyze it.  And maybe I was too young to look at it objectively.  But in writing this short story, I was really forced to figure out why I was feeling the way I did.  At least for me, I usually revisit memories but never really think about finding meaning in them.  In writing this, I started out with the usual memory, trying to recall everything I saw and felt.  That led to my first draft, just a bunch of messy writing.  Once that was on the page I tried to take a step back.  I tried to look at everything on the page and organize it in some way.  And I tried to analyze it as if it were someone else’s story, and see what meaning could be extracted.  Once I found what I thought the story was about, I restructured it again to fit that theme more effectively.

I wanted to leave some things vague or unstated, because I think writing can be powerful when the reader relates in some way to the themes or characters.  And more people can relate if they are allowed to find their own meaning in a piece.  However, I was unsure that I got anything across at all, so in this aspect having others read it really helped.  Their feedback gave me clues on how they interpreted it. 

In the end, I think that the narrative itself isn’t perfect.  But I am glad that I wrote it because I worked hard on it, put in my full effort, grew personally as I analyzed that memory, and ultimately have a piece of work that I am not ashamed of.  That’s all I ever wanted out of writing this. 

Balancing Act

I slammed the door, even though no one was in the house to hear it.  Just my dad, working out in the garage like he always does.  How can a couple motorcycles need that much maintenance anyways?  What about me?

I wanted to punch a wall.  And break my hand in the process.  Then he’d feel sorry.

But the reality of that awkward age between naïve kindergartener and rebellious teenager is that you aren’t afforded many possibilities when it comes to dealing with your emotions. 

So I shut myself up in the only space I had, my corner room with the tiny latch put on the door to give an illusion of security.  And I looked around, not even knowing what for.

I saw a giant stuffed bear, weary with age, that we had gotten at a garage sale.  I saw picture frames full of a younger me, fishing or hiking or playing baseball, doing those things more for him than for me.  I saw the precariously large Lego set that I had saved up for months to buy.  And I saw a solitary juggler’s ball.

There was my target.

My dad knew how to juggle, and he had tried to teach me once.  They were a Christmas gift from Grandpa Phil, and the instant the last shred of wrapping paper was pulled off we had opened them.  All I remember was my hands being too small to do it.

This juggling ball didn’t mean anything to me before this moment.  But now it was my target, and I pounced.

 I flung it to the ground, as hard as I could.  Over and over.  The seams between the patches of blue and yellow and red began to wear.  Again, harder still.  I wanted it to break open and spill out all over the room, cover every inch.  

But it wasn’t that easy.  The ball wouldn’t just split, it was made to stay together through such torment.  So I looked around again.  There’s gotta be something I can use. 

The nearest thing I can find is a little plastic pen.  I aim for the seams and stab.  Nothing.  Again.  Again.  There! Little pink and blue beads spill out.  

I thought it would be satisfying to see that ball bleed pink and blue.  But it wasn’t.  Even though I was alone, I felt embarrassed for some reason.  This wasn’t me, I don’t do these kinds of things.  I was the calm one, the mature one, never any trouble, I remember a teacher saying once.  And now, this? Now I couldn’t even learn to juggle if I wanted to.  I wished I hadn’t done it.  I wished it would just go away.  So I swept the remains with my hand into a CD case and zipped it shut.  And didn’t open it for many years.