By mid-field period I had called her about a dozen times, sometimes getting the pre-recorded message that “the subscriber you have dialed is not available” (a euphemism for “the subscriber hasn’t paid their bill”), sometimes getting a voicemail with that pleasant robotic woman reading out the ten-digit number, the pinnacle of cellular anonymity. There was no way of knowing whether or not the number was still good, and the respondent had long since left the address we were provided by DSHS. (We were to find out at the bitter end of the field period that someone at DSHS had screwed up royally, providing our Director with respondent contact information three months old, and in some cases older. With a transient population, as parents with active CPS cases tend to be, contact information changes often. Three months may as well have been three years. We had been behind the eightball the entire study, and while we’d sensed it, running down lead after lead, coming up empty handed, we’d accepted it as part of studying this population, never assuming DSHS wouldn’t possess updated, verified contact information for its own clients. In retrospect, of course we should have assumed the worst of this big, clunky, broken government machine. You’ve seen the headlines. Shit is always fucked up with CPS.) Continue reading
Continued from Tuesday…
Jay began to lecture me on white people and their uptight ways, a stream of consciousness flowing into rants about The System, legalization of marijuana, discreet drug use so as not to expose the kids, defense of her parenting and her philosophy of personhood in general. Her speech was pressured and confident, her total self-assurance evident. I sensed she was looking for some sort of validation, a reaction from me, despite her conviction. She wasn’t going to allow me to withhold my personality much longer. No neutral, passive research attitude would be tolerated. I caved as much as I could. “Jay, you are by far the most interesting person I’ve interviewed,” I told her, placing a light hand on her shoulder. We shared a smile. Continue reading
Jay had been sitting in the middle of my stack of files for several weeks, below the hot prospects who had agreed to interview appointments, above those that had proved to be dead-ends, all contact information bad. Her phone had been disconnected from the first time I called but her address hadn’t been explored. (We found out at the end of the study that the Department of Social and Health Services had fucked up, providing us with months-old information for a largely transient population, and oh my god was that the only information they had? How were they reaching their clients to provide services?)
Once I had several addresses prove to be the only means of contact for multiple respondents, I made a trip down I-5 for a series of drive-bys, an unscheduled, unannounced pop-in. The best-case scenario for a drive-by was gaining access to the respondent and completing the interview. Often times drive-bys led down a rabbit hole, as the respondent no longer lived there, or wasn’t crashing there anymore, or the place was vacant. This time I was headed to a suburb south of a city, not far from a joint Army and Air Force base. Lots of stripmalls, lots of hourly rate motels, the overall impression of low-rent squalor shaded by massive, densely growing Evergreen trees. Continue reading
Loyalty was a quality largely absent (hidden?) both in relationships and the broader societal context, so much so I barely noticed. In fact the concept had become so distant and shallow I began to think of it only in the context of consumerism–brand loyalty. And even then, I was really only out for the best deal, most of the time. Could the same be said of my relationships? I’m not sure I even understand what loyalty truly means anymore, in practice that is. So I crowd sourced via social media for some thoughts on why loyalty has become both under-expressed and undervalued in the modern age. Understanding I’m part of the shift, if for no other reason than that I’m alive at this time, I wondered what I could do to bring it back. Because didn’t life feel better, less treacherous or unstable when we knew for sure we had people, communities even, behind us? Continue reading
I had claimed the south west region as mine for the study, meaning I was responsible for interviewing all respondents within that Child Protective Services jurisdiction. A lucky thousand or so parents with active CPS cases had been randomly selected to participate in a quality control measure to determine if a new state social work practice methodology was proving effective. Almost all respondents were women, many single moms, some of whom had had their children removed during the course of their case, some living at in-patient drug rehab centers, almost all living in poverty. I wanted south west because my fiancé was working as an attorney in that jurisdiction—representing the very social workers our study would QC–in their child abuse cases. While we swore we wouldn’t trade names or other identifying details, I figured it would be fun to have lunch with him and all our friends who worked in his office a few times a week, and get a peek into their professional world. And the mileage checks would be great.
Were we research interviewers concerned about venturing into the homes of people who were in the middle of child abuse allegations and investigations? Continue reading
The job was data collection for research studies related to mental health and drug addiction. My role was to go into various communities to survey research respondents, armed with a laptop and some sort of cash incentive. We were surveying high school kids about sexual behavior and drug use. We were surveying adults about various health-related behaviors. We were surveying parents about their child abuse cases. We were surveying elementary school kids about bullying. A field period of one project was always beginning, another ending, another smack in the middle, meaning sometimes we were on multiple projects at a time, cleaning up and finishing one, gearing up for another.
At the beginning of a project we were handed a stack of folders with the respondent’s contact information on the front, a contact log and notes field printed on the pages throughout. Many of our respondents were dealing with poverty and lived a transient lifestyle, phone numbers and addresses gone disconnected and cold almost upon our receipt. You started by dialing the numbers, hoping to make contact and schedule a time to meet them for an interview. Continue reading
We’d recently reconnected via social media and shared a chat about our experiences of being depressed in high school. We had been peripheral acquaintances at most, and we remarked that perhaps we could have been supportive friends to each other had we known the other was struggling within the same all-encompassing grey cloud. I hoped he would be open to an interview about his experience of depression, since mental health issues in men are so rarely discussed in the culture outside of professional circles, and he agreed.
“Depression is such a central theme in my life, I can’t separate myself from it. Guys are conditioned not to show or talk about this aspect,” he observed, agreeing that the public conversation about men’s mental health issues has a long way to go. He’d had his first Major Depressive Episode at age twelve, and continued to grapple with the disorder well into adulthood. A single man in his mid-thirties, he’d at last broken through due to a combination of factors. “Dialogue, communication and connection have been inextricably linked to me coming out of depression,” he told me. For many years before there had been bleak periods of intense isolation and misery, which impacted his life negatively, drawing it down to a very small existence. Continue reading
“How do you get it?” is the question I get the most after telling someone that I have Sickle Cell Anemia. I can’t help but think that they want an answer immediately to ensure that they’re standing at a safe distance and haven’t contracted the disease. But that’s NOT how you get it. It doesn’t come from touch, or exposure. One must be born with the illness. My mother has the disease and my father has the trait, meaning I had a 75% or more chance of having Sickle Cell. Continue reading
“When it went down originally, people wanted to push it under the rug. I lost a lot of friends,” she told me, as we began our conversation about her experience of being raped during her junior year of college. She had been describing the reaction of a recent long-term boyfriend, and how his response wasn’t unlike that of her social circle at the time of the trauma. After dating for over a year, she had finally worked up the nerve to disclose to him that she had been raped, an important step for relationships with men that appeared to have long term potential. “It’s a pretty defining moment from my life. It creates trust issues for me. If you want to know me, you need to know this.” They were on a ski trip together, and one night after they had some drinks, she ventured into her past. No sooner had she spoken the words than he became angry, visibly upset and uncomfortable. She dropped the subject for the time being, bringing it up again the next day. He became defensive, informing her in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to hear about it, or talk about it. He wasn’t the one who had raped her, so why should he have to confront her truth?
As she and I spoke we returned to the theme of silence, again and again, brought on by forces internal, social and cultural. Continue reading
He offered to be interviewed when I put out the call for volunteers, and I knew immediately I wanted to hear about his experience of divorce, Initially I had wanted the series to be all about different peoples’ experience of sex–what they learned growing up, what constituted sex ed at at home/school, first experiences, overall attitudes. But with him I remembered getting a facebook invite to a party that was part farewell to a marriage, part estate sale. At the time I thought him and his soon to be ex-wife incredibly respectful toward each other and thus felt intrigued by his seeming drama-free divorce. He had “a lot of angles and spins on divorce in his head” which I found him quite open to discussing, as I sat in my car outside work, furiously scribbling notes while he spoke into the phone.
A man in his mid-forties, he had been in the marriage for ten years, divorced now for three. I told him about my impression of his “divorce party” to which he replied, “I’m sure we seemed very evolved. In reality it took a lot of drama for us to get there. Once we had decided we weren’t healthy for each other, if we ever had been, it was easier to be civil.” Continue reading