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I, Too, Have "A Need to Know: Confrontations With the Autoethnographic Shadow

I, Too, Have "A Need to Know: Confrontations With the Autoethnographic Shadow

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Published by Amira De la Garza
This essay demonstrates the application of Jungian shadow principles to autoethnographic reflexive practices and methods. The author may be reached through academia.edu
This essay demonstrates the application of Jungian shadow principles to autoethnographic reflexive practices and methods. The author may be reached through academia.edu

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Published by: Amira De la Garza on Jun 19, 2012
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I, Too, Have ―A Need to Know:” Confrontations With the Autoethnographic Shadow1 Sarah Amira de la Garza

brown beautiful bird pelican swooping through the air how do you fly so gracefully carrying such a load? being so mesmerized I fail to see exactly how you look * * * * * Sometimes it takes a whack on the head to wake up to what we can‘t see, what we don‘t realize we‘re missing, what we work so diligently not to see. Roger van Oech used the phrase, ―a whack on the side of the head‖ as a metaphor for the little jolts we often need to awaken our creativity, to escape the ‗locks‘ that limit our creative thinking. I cringe whenever I read his book‘s title; just the notion of a whack to the head triggers me. A student first brought the book to my attention in 1989. I never opened the copy of the book he gave me. He had thought it a humorous parallel to the head injury I‘d recently suffered in 1987. I‘m sure I laughed when he gave it to me, but it really wasn‘t funny to me. I wasn‘t ready to see my head injury, not only as a wake up call, but as a permanent detour in my life, and had no awareness at the time of its role in transforming the ways I would think, create, and come to experience even the person I was at any given moment in time. All the while at an unconscious level I was hurting, and I avoided without conscious choice, those things that would make me visit the prickly relationship I had with memory. Even before that brisk autumn day when my head felt the impact of the automobile that did not stop for me on a crosswalk in New Jersey—even before that day, I was already wired to avoid and forget. * * * * * As an ethnographer, one of the most difficult things to admit is that despite my ability to account for so many things in what Gilbert Ryle called thick description, I can randomly and unknowingly lose significant pieces of my memory. It‘s ironic that because of Clifford Geertz‘ prominent use of the term thick description, we‘ve forgotten Ryle. I‘ve come to focus intensely on accountability in my work, on the avoidance of intentional obfuscation or glossing or spin—I‘ve become so aware of how easily
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This essay appears in De la Garza, S.A., Krizek, R.L., and Trujillo, N. (eds.) (2012) Celebrating Bud: A Festschrift Honoring the Life and Work of H.L. “Bud” Goodall, Jr. Tempe, AZ: Innovative Inquiry.

distortion occurs that I want to be sure I‘m not intentionally helping to make it happen. I am easily triggered by careless citations and failure to give credit to primary sources. I know that the indigenous oral traditions I treasure and honor are an emergent process with no style manual; why have I developed this knee-jerk obsessiveness with precision in accountability? It is precisely because I know of my own inability to account for many things that disappear from my awareness and memory that I believe I have focused so intently on controlling and demonstrating that which can be remembered. * * * * * Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. –Carl Jung, Psychology & Religion. In a number of ways, I never wanted to be like my mother. It‘s odd, because in many other ways, I am delighted to be like my mom--my organizational skills, my talent for cooking and my public speaking ability. But there have always been a number of ways I prided myself in not being like her. For instance, unlike her, I didn’t forget bad things. It has always driven me crazy when I‘d recall an incident from childhood or adolescence, and eager to recount and process the events, I‘d ask Mom a familiar, ―Remember when...?‖ Her responses were more often than not either, ―...I don‘t think so,‖ ―...when did that happen?‖ ―I don‘t remember!‖ or ―I don‘t have a memory like yours--you have such a good memory.‖ Mom was supposed to remember these things, wasn‘t she? I wanted her to remember when I stepped on a sewing needle in the living room at about age 3. I wanted her to remember she told me there was nothing in my foot as I screamed and cried in pain. I wanted her to remember when she slapped my face for talking back to her when I was about five, and how it made my nose bleed, and how Mama Fina took me to her house so I would stop crying. I wanted her to remember these and other things because they hurt me, and I wanted a penitential cycle of atonement to confirm that I had reason to hurt inside. I wanted to hear an apology, an explanation, or at least some sort of awareness of what had happened. But I never did. I never have. I never will, really. And over the years, I silently applauded myself for my ability to recall difficult things-essentially blaming her for those things forgotten, for forgetting. That is why I was so proud of my ability to remember family events. In some small way, this pride in the ability to log details and chronicle them for use in just the right story at just the right time probably helped make me an ethnographer, a performer, a teacher. But it didn‘t make me unlike my mother, despite what I might have thought. * * * * *

The unconscious mind is a bit of a trickster. It ―knows‖ things that because they‘re unconscious, I can‘t know--unless they somehow become conscious. But these things leak into my awareness through my behaviors, feelings and thoughts. I get hunches about things I should have ―no reason‖ to know; I am triggered by things I see or experience, that seem, on the surface, quite innocuous; I have dreams, I‘m attracted to persons and places and things intensely and automatically. And all the time, I like to imagine, there is this little guy, this little brat, this little trickster agent I call my unconscious mind-and he, or she, holds the keys to these unknowns, but won‘t let me see them. I‘m supposed to float in the sea of liminality and ambiguity that surrounds me and wait for the day I can finally see the shore. For all that Carl Jung wrote about the ―shadow,‖ just exactly how and when it shows up in conscious experience remains a random trickster script. * * * * * Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.— Carl Jung, ―The Philosophical Tree.‖ My pride should have been the first sign that my amazing not-like-Mom memory was not all I held it up to be. I was an undergrad at North Texas State University, and during my last two years there, I worked as a resident assistant, or R.A., in Bruce Hall, the dorm that housed students who wanted to be surrounded by the sounds of jazz and practicing musicians--those who were artists and poets and actors, dancers and writers. I loved living there, an oasis of bohemian creativity in an otherwise highly conservative cultural environment in Texas. While at Bruce Hall, I was pulled aside by a fellow R.A., and invited to attend a Bible study. My soul, I learned from him, was in peril. I was ―associating with sinners,‖ and he thought I might enjoy learning more about the Bible. Having been raised Catholic, I had not studied much Bible. And this fellow R.A. I found quite adorable (despite his apparent judgment of my soul), so I accepted his invitation to go to church with him, and when there, I accepted an invitation from a young woman I met there. She invited me to meet with her for early morning Bible study. She‘d even come to my dorm, meeting me there at 7 am. (When I look back at this, I wonder exactly what would make a young woman of about age 20 organize her life around meeting with other young people at 7 am in order to teach them about Bible study—if she were Catholic, I‘d have assumed she wanted to be a nun.) She came to my dorm room, and we sat on my bed, with the new Bible I had bought for my learning, and I was actually quite fascinated. I‘d never learned to study with an emphasis in hermeneutics--so although her purpose was to change the way I lived my life, my real interest was in how I was learning to study words and language and meaning. It was when I learned how to use a concordance that my fascination really grew. My interest in Denton Bible Church and the early morning Bible studies waned quickly, but

my passion for the study of words was intense. I had read dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun throughout my childhood. I bought a giant blue book, Strong’s Concordance, with Greek and Hebrew lexicons, which would help me to discover the meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible. While I would enjoy using it over the years, my real reason for purchasing this book was because I wanted to see with my own eyes something that I‘d heard several times from these Bible scholars. It had to do with the word pride. The preacher at Denton Bible Church, Tommy Nelson, had a strong Texas drawl, seasoned with the sound of his persistent smile. Looking a bit like one of the brothers Quaid, he paused with dramatic flair when making the important points. He explained to us why pride is a problem, why pride is a sin, ―... pride comes from the Greek word tuphoo, meaning ‘to envelop with smoke... ‘to inflate with self-conceit’... ‘to be high-minded’ ... ‘ to be lifted up with pride.’” He went on to talk about the way we could learn the attributes of pride by understanding this Greek root--that when we are proud, it is as if our vision gets clouded as with smoke--pride keeps us from being able to see clearly what we think we are seeing. * * * * * ―...I was so proud of my ability to remember...‖ Yes, that about sums up my conscious relationship to my memory, in particular when I encountered my mother‘s inability to remember things--as if they had never happened. My unconsciously guided attraction to the hermeneutic study of words held a wealth of insights. But I was beyond blind to them--I was completely unconscious of even the possibility of their existence, much less my need for them. Still, my fascination with the Greek word tuphoo (pronounced tu-fo‘o) and how it demonstrated the power of learning the roots of the words we used, was persistent. That trickster in the unconscious--she doesn‘t let up, but she also doesn‘t ever just tell you what you need to know. It‘s taken over 30 years for me to begin understanding why this was so persistently ‗interesting‘ to me. My pride in my memory was in fact, quite like a smoke screen, clouding the fact that I was just like my mother when it came to these memory lapses, these holes in the fabric of the way I recalled my life experience. And just like my mother, the way in which I remember things has had major implications for the ways in which I can influence the feelings of another around the events that I‘m not even aware of forgetting. This is important. Even though I might not have thought so, I need to know these things. As an autoethnographer, I stand on very shaky ground by telling you stories that from the get-go, as they say, I‘m now aware are possibly filled with large holes in the way I‘m recalling events. It‘s important that I share how I came to realize that I‘m just like my mother. Because it matters, and because I think it will help to demonstrate exactly how complicated and critically challenging the implications of this are. It all begins in the telling of a story about the way I told a story, in my book, Maria Speaks. The book I dedicated to my mother, in fact.

* * * * * When we must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. But to penetrate the darkness we must summon all the powers of enlightenment that consciousness can offer—Carl Jung, ―The Stages of Life‖ To this day, one of the most powerful examples of autoethnographic writing I‘ve read is the sections describing his mother and his relationship to his wife in Casing a Promised Land, by Bud Goodall. I remember not being able to put the book down for long until I‘d read it all. Sometime in the mid 1980‘s, my doctoral advisor, Larry Browning, told me he had heard some work at the Alta conference in Utah that he thought he should tell me about. He recommended that I consider writing my work narratively. ―You seem to engage with your material deeply, in a way that could make good stories, good reading, ― he told me. Reading Goodall‘s book, I realized Larry had more than likely been talking about Bud‘s work. I greatly admired Bud‘s ability to write personal narrative and devoured his ―little red book,‖ Writing the New Ethnography, when it was released in 2000. I‘d asked Bud, in 1998, to be part of my committee for my second doctoral degree, this time in spirituality, excited by the idea of having him read my ethnographic work. In 2002, when we needed a new director at the Hugh Downs School at Arizona State University, I began working to recruit him. I was happy my colleagues supported the idea of having another ethnographer, and a creative writer, on our faculty. I wasn‘t ready for something I learned from him after he arrived, however. ―I never studied ethnography, and I don‘t do field work,‖ he told me, when I was visiting him in his office. He obviously did research on his topics; that was clearly part of the premise of the idea of being an ―organizational detective‖ that he wrote about. But he had not trained in qualitative research methods, and when he was assigned to teach the beginning methods course for our graduate students, many of them found their way to my office for help with methodology. I was absolutely confused, resentful, and quite angry. This was not the first organizational ethnographer in the field who had confessed to me of no experience with systematic fieldwork, of no established methodological background in ethnography. What about accountability, I asked myself? Meanwhile, I kept teaching about the shadow, kept working on my own shadows, insisting on accountability. What I didn‘t know yet was that there has to be a little light for one to see one‘s shadow. The shadows protected by the darkness of total unconsciousness are free to reign over our perceptions of our experience and the way those perceptions influence, direct, and determine how we behave and feel. Back to María Speaks, and how she didn’t speak. * * * * *

―So, would you like to meet and have a cup of coffee and talk?‖ The sound of Dennis‘ voice was like water to a parched piece of earth. I‘d wanted to talk to him for about seven years. I knew I‘d committed some sort of gaffe, was afraid of what it might be. I was more afraid of the idea that I‘d forgotten something really important, an aspect of my head injury and resulting trauma with which I was sadly familiar. I feel crazy when I tell people I have no memory of something they remember fully well. I feel like a liar when they have been obviously affected by that which I seem to have so cavalierly ―forgotten.‖ ―Yes,‖ I told him. I don‘t know if I nodded or said the word, but yes, yes, yes. We agreed to meet in the hotel lobby a few hours later. I needed to know what I‘d done, what I‘d said. * * * * * By the time Bud Goodall‘s book, A Need to Know, was released, I‘d had time to let my feelings stew for a couple of years. I felt like I was keeping a huge secret about him, and I wanted to tell everyone what I knew. I felt like a traitor for having read the manuscripts he shared with me as he was working on the book. He trusted me. I was stewing inside as I tried to bite my tongue each time he was called an ethnographer. These are the ugly parts of the shadow. It always comes out in intense feelings, obsessive feelings, feelings of absolute certainty. These should have been my red flags. If I was being triggered by his lack of method, shouldn‘t I have wondered where my own method was ―lacking?‖ I was blind even to the ways in which these judgmental certainties I was feeling were in complete contradiction to what I believe and write about with respect to ―ethnography as spiritual practice.‖ Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Matthew Fox‘s teachings on the spiritual path of the via negativa. But I didn‘t. That‘s the ugly part of how the shadow works—in cahoots with the ego; it‘s quite nasty, really. * * * * * I assumed my problems with memory started with the head injury suffered in 1987 when a car struck me. They were then exacerbated in 2002 when a large 2‖x4‖ wooden beam fell on my head. Somehow I didn‘t include the three years of amnesia around my sexual molestation at age 12 as one of my ―problems with memory.‖ I didn‘t include the blank spot in my memory of what happened when my godmother took me to visit the parish priest‘s home when I was very young, the recurring dreams and fear of men who looked like him. Sometimes the shadow is responding to everyday socialization; other times it is an automatic defensive response to trauma. But we don‘t really know what we need to know about these things until after the shadowed behaviors have become part of our life history. * * * * * Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. In this latter case, unfortunately, there is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality. Although the possibility of

gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection. —Carl Jung, ―General Aspects of Dream Psychology‖ Dennis had stopped talking to me in 2005, shortly after I had given him a copy of my book, María Speaks. I liked telling myself that it wasn‘t because of something I‘d forgotten, that it was rather because of the fact I‘d told a story he preferred to be secret. But I knew that the chance was far greater, from what I knew of my life thus far, that I‘d done or said something, forgotten something important—something I had no memory of whatsoever. His silence hurt, and I wanted to know what I‘d done. I was right and wrong. I hadn‘t ―done anything‖ since giving him the book. That was a relief. He wasn‘t upset that I told the story, either. He began to explain why he was upset: the story that I had told left out self-incriminating details very conveniently. And it altered the way readers viewed us. How could I remember so many details so precisely and yet then leave out incredibly important events? ―What did I leave out?‖ I knew I‘d tried to write it carefully so it focused on my inability to make a choice consciously rather than imply intentional coercion or pressure on his part. I made a decision in 1986 to have an abortion, which until I awoke in the recovery room afterwards, I did not consciously realize. It was one of the few most painful experiences in my life, one whose memory tortures me still in a small corner of my mind. But that wasn‘t the problem. In the story, I allude to the painfulness of those events by referring to his marriage proposal shortly after the abortion. ―You don‘t remember?‖ he asks, looking at me over the small table at the excessively public restaurant full of friends and colleagues from the conference we were attending. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I was afraid. I was afraid to tell him I did not, indeed, have any memory of what he was telling me. I was afraid he would think I was lying. But more so, I was afraid of the fact that I did not remember something so important. I was afraid because if I could forget this, what else might I have forgotten? It was so seemingly convenient to forget something so ugly, something that embarrassed me, something that in my heart of hearts did not feel like me, was not present in any of my memories of how I processed those days. ―You told me to ask you to marry me.‖ My mind began to reel. This was impossible to me. I recalled myself sitting on the floor of the room we were staying in at his parents‘ home that Christmas, writing furiously in my journal about my confusion after the proposal. I‘d been angry, hurt, and couldn‘t understand why he would propose so soon after the abortion. If he could propose then, why couldn‘t he have allowed our child to be born? That is what I recall journaling in the dark. But it was not just the journal that was in the dark; I was in the dark. ― ‗Ask me to marry you,‘ you said to me.‖ I did? My whole sense of my experience was enshrouded in darkness, and I had no way to find a light just then. I looked at his face again. Was I really a conspirator in my own

experience back then? Was I the instigator? As we talked, things made more sense—but I felt I was hearing a story about someone else. I wanted to scream. Instead, I cried. This man never lied to me. He is an honest and good man. Even as he looked at me skeptically as I repeatedly expressed my alarm and shock and remorse, I could do nothing but see in his eyes the man who saved me after my accident. He drove me daily to doctors and therapists for months of physical therapy and tests. He endured the outbursts and erratic behavior caused by my head injury and never complained. He was telling me the truth. And I have no memory of it. I can envision it; can adjust my memories to squeeze in the details he provides, but no matter how much he tells me, I do not remember it. I want to know why I did it, especially feeling as I did then—with no memory of it, I can‘t know. He tells me that reading my book made him question the value of autoethnography. I understand. I am horrified. ―Haven‘t you ever heard of member-checking?‖ he asks me. Yes, of course I have. I am the champion of the member-check. I warn myself and countless students of the ability of an ethnographer to write what he or she wishes to be the case if the shadow aspects of what one is studying are not examined and embraced. I warn them that one never knows what one might leak unconsciously about the self. I tell stories about field notes full of details that never make it into ethnographies because they‘ve been written to support preferred accounts of events. But I never take into consideration the power of forgetting as an ethical problem, because quite frankly, it had never crossed my mind that one‘s shadow could move one not just to avoid, but also to completely forget what one has done. I‘d like to say that I would have member-checked if I had known I needed to, but it sounds so foolish to do so. I am dizzy inside myself, trying to find my way out of that dark room with no doors or windows. How could I know I left out details, if I did not know that even my reference to events was clouded by the very omission of facts of which I have no memory? I am defenseless. How do I account for this? We talk. ―Is there…anything else?‖ I ask him. There were, and he shared a series of accounts, all equally horrifying to me because of my absolute lack of memory. Was I really so neatly packaged into the person I remember, and kept separate from the person who said and did the things he told me? As we talk, it becomes clear that the underlying theme that tied my behavior together was an obsession with not being seen as sinful or damned by the Church. I have no memory of forcing him to attend services with me one Sunday. I cry again as he tells me of these things. A former student sees him across the room and runs over to greet him. I know her; I must muster the emotional and muscular strength to appear there is nothing of concern being interrupted. The irony of the difficulty I have monitoring my self presentation is not lost on me, as I continue to reel from the awareness of an aspect of myself that seemed quite able to monitor not only how, but what, I remember.

―Are you going to forget we had this conversation?‖ he teases me as we begin to close our conversation. I say no, but I have encountered something about myself that makes me feel vulnerable in answering. * * * * * In 1991, not even five years after the events depicted in María Speaks, my reflexive practices had given me enough self-awareness to know I should make the ethical choice to avoid writing about my experience with the Catholic presence on the Pine Ridge reservation. I explain to my students that I was so obviously triggered by what I was experiencing that I knew there were shadow issues related to the Church lurking, issues that would make me an untrustworthy storyteller. By the time I wrote María Speaks, I had practically gutted myself psychologically with respect to the narratives that had dominated me as a woman of Mexican Catholic ancestry and acculturation, and had devoted many years to intensive work with a wide range of experts in delayed grief, trauma, and PTSD. But prior to those years, any memories triggered by my ―good girl‖ shadow self are apparently well-hidden with my active shadow of myself as a sinning, immoral little girl who can‘t remember what a certain priest did with her in the back room of his house. What other shadow selves might be lurking? In service to my hyper-vigilant ego and out of my fear of forgetting, an overly selfrighteous shadow self developed after my head injury. This time my shadow was my own human frailty, and the price I paid was in trying to believe some standard of absolute precision could be maintained. While I valued the notions of emergence and unpredictability, of naturalistic creativity and holographic realities, the level at which my entire life was determined by my brain injury challenged my academic identity. My shadow worked to hide the most precious and necessary part of my humanity— humility. We forget. We are imperfect. We are living a life of emergent design. I could tout and laud the virtues of naturalistic inquiry and holographic reality as long as I kept viewing myself as a completed work. It was too frightening to consider that in addition to natural synchronicities and emergence, I had a series of psychological and cognitive landmines secretly embedded in my identity. * * * * * If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. … Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. –Carl Jung, Psychology & Religion.

Bud Goodall smiles at me lovingly when I share anything like these things. That smile irked me all these years, despite its ability to charm me at others. You don‘t know, I‘d respond silently to myself, protecting my shadow yet again. He didn‘t judge; he never does. He‘d respond, ―You need to write about it.‖ I knew he was right but I hadn‘t done the field work the way I thought it should be done; my notes were a mess and random when it came to this study of myself. I‘d taken smug pride that I was not an ―accidental ethnographer,‖ as he and Chris Poulos so beautifully chronicle. But in fact, we all are on a somewhat accidental, serendipitous road—if not in the work we produce, in the way we live our lives. And if my life is any measure for how we operate, we all have deep needs to know. I still maintain my adherence to methodological standards in my work and teaching, but my journey with Bud is teaching me a new compassion and openness of heart. Encountering and embracing my shadow helps me to accept and appreciate how we each come to the work that we offer. We all have stories, and they fit into narratives. Bud has been forever the organizational detective is solving mysteries. He needs to know, and his method is his writing. I am coming to realize that I have been living the story of a mindful heretic daring to violate all she holds sacred in order to find hidden information. And my method requires that I remember not to simply avoid the shadows, but to look deeply into them. Sometimes that‘s where I‘ll find the keys to my own stories. I have a need to know, too.

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