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.