Many spoons laid out on a table.
I’m writing this in an attempt to help people without chronic illness understand the constant calculation people with chronic illness (whether physical, mental, or both) have to undertake to budget our energy, as well as the limits on our resilience.

First, go read about the Spoon Theory (which is technically a metaphor, yes I know). Then come back. I’ll wait.

….

You’re back! Great. Let’s continue.

To review:

The basic idea of the Spoon Theory (Metaphor) is that, while most people have a consistent level of energy that’s pretty high and don’t have to calculate how they expend their energy, people with chronic illness – whether physical, mental, or both – are engaged in a constant calculation of what they can afford to do before they run out of energy and have to rest or risk illness and collapse. For example, some days I have to decide – if I take the full recycling bin out first thing in the morning, will I have enough energy to get M. to our co-working space/Montessori school and then do any good work once I’m there? If not, I better wait on the recycling, or I risk having to spend my workday in a fog being unproductive.

An important part of this metaphor that the original explanation doesn’t address is that the number of “spoons” – the amount of energy a chronically ill person has – varies depending on a number of factors. So a person might be able to accomplish a lot one day and very little the next, or might have a run of bad days with very few spoons and need many restful days to recover. This happened to me when we rearranged the house rather quickly right before M’s birthday. I’m only now beginning to find energy for things other than school or caring for M.

There’s another element to this that the spoon theory doesn’t address, and that’s the case of having variable emotional resilience. Anyone can have their resilience depleted, but some people have more resilience to begin with. In my case, depression and anxiety mean when those conditions aren’t well-managed, I have much lower resilience than a normal person. A tantrum from M. that I could normally handle gracefully and with gentleness might prompt me to snap at him or have to separate myself from him when I’m feeling this way. The metaphor I find helpful for this is to think of myself as a rubber band. When I’m stretched close to my limit, a very small additional stretching could cause me to snap. My rubber band might be more brittle or smaller than someone else’s, someone who could tolerate more demands on their resilience before snapping.

I hope this has been helpful for people, especially if you care about someone with chronic illness but don’t have it yourself,

Grad school and parenthood are both immensely isolating experiences. So when you combine them, you tend to be… immensely isolated. I feel very lonely most of the time, but also too exhausted usually to do the things I think you have to do to keep a friendship going. So I start to feel like I have no friends, when really I have a lot of friends, but I’m just not communicating with them much.

This is, I think, actually pretty normal. This article I read for class a few years ago had the image below in it.

Figure from “Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries,” Robert S. Taylor, College and Research Libraries 29(3), 178-194

The way I interpret this schematic, when people first become friends, there’s a lot of communicative acts that are of the getting-to-know-you type, not focused on any particular topic. But as the friendship endures and you know each other better, you communicate less frequently but more topically.

My friendships fall in line with this pretty well, but there’s not much communication that’s just on the topic of, you know, how we’re all doing, and how we value our friendship. So here’s me, lonely, missing my friends, too tired to do much about it, and also a little overwhelmed at the prospect, because what do you say to someone you care greatly about but haven’t talked to in months?

On Thanksgiving, W., M., and I drove over to W.’s brother’s place for dinner with that side of the family. M. hadn’t napped and fell asleep on the way over. I told W. to go ahead inside, and I would stay in the care and bring M. up if/when he woke up.

I’d brought books with me, but I found that my brain couldn’t process the words in them. So I played some games on my phone and watched “Pangs,” as is my tradition. After that I started to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but I got a text from Verizon saying I was about to use up all my data, so I decided to stop.

So there I was, in the dark, in a rare silent moment, all by myself, and I had a revelation:

All I had to do to connect with my friends was to say hi. It was as simple as a text. It didn’t need to be a dramatic letter full of reasons why I haven’t been in touch, apologies for ghosting them, lengthy updates on how things are going with me.

So I opened up the Contacts app on my phone and just started going through it, texting people I miss a lot and haven’t checked in with in a long time. (I did miss some people and only realized later that I should have included them, so the next time I find myself in a truly quiet moment like this, I’ll get to them.)

To each of them, I sent a customized version of a message that went basically like this:

“Hi [friend’s name]! I’m in the car with a sleeping M. outside W’s brother’s house and taking the rare quiet time as an opportunity to text friends and wish them well. I hope you’re having a great day!”

Some people just got “Hi! I love you!” and others just got a variation of “I hope you’re having a great day!” without the explanation about M. sleeping.

And in a few minutes, answers started coming in.

I am thankful for your friendship.

❤️️❤️️❤️️

We just pulled off our first Thanksgiving in our house!

I love you right back and I hope you had a wonderful day too! 💜

Thank you! We did have a good day! I hope you and your family did as well.

Thanks for the Thanks-greetings! I hope you’re doing well and junk!

I love you too! And I miss you!

Hey lovely! I hope you’re well! I adore you!

Friends. They’re great, right?

Now I’ve opened up all of these conversations, I hope I’ll feel more comfortable just sending a note to say “Hey! Thinking of you! How are you?” I can’t believe it took this long for it to occur to me that it’s as simple as that.

And let’s conclude with this:

If you’re someone who thinks sometimes of reaching out to me and then doesn’t, because it’s too daunting or whatever, know that I always welcome a “Hi! How are you?”

This morning, when W. and M. were sleeping in, I could have chosen to do one of many different things, whether I wanted to spend that time productively or on leisure. I chose to play the visual novel Choices, which is one of Tumblr’s top gaming-related tags right now. When I wasn’t able to do any more chapters there, I switched to The Arcana: A Mystic Romance. I’ve also got a vampire one installed, but I haven’t tried it yet.

It should surprise no one who knows me well that I like these games. I got obsessed with the Ace Attorney series for a while and pretty much treat all Bioware games like they’re otome with combat. Don’t get me started on Dream Daddy and how I can’t bring myself to choose between Goth Dad and Barista Pun Dad. (In real life, I married gothish barista pun dad.)

I read a piece a while back about how young women are making businesses out of writing stories and developing them for some of these games. I’m definitely keeping my eye on this as a potential area for research.

 

I went thrifting yesterday by myself for the first time since having M. Thrifting used to be a source of great fun. When I was in high school, I scored myself a coveted collection of velvet blazers from thrift stores. When I was in college, I often went to the vintage store near campus and loved just browsing the racks. Yesterday, I went to the thrift store with a couple of purposes in mind:

  1. Buy components for a Tifa Lockhart cosplay.
  2. Grab anything that caught my eye that would help me lean more into my various seasonal aesthetics (holiday goth, faerie goth, mer-goth, goth girl fall).

I tried on a few things, including a skirt that would have worked okay for Tifa. But I didn’t feel great about myself in it, so in the end I didn’t buy it.

I spent about two hours in the thrift store, looked at every department. For the first hour or so, it felt kind of fun. But by the end I found myself thinking, “This isn’t how I want to spend my time.” To really have success with thrifting, you need to do it often. And I just don’t have it in me anymore.

And that’s okay. Things change.

I do like browsing online resale places, like ThredUp, Poshmark, and Depop, though everything on Depop is priced too high for me to spend on something I probably had in my closet 20 years ago.

After I left the thrift store, I went to the creative reuse center/store that’s across the parking lot. (They’re both owned by the same non-profit.) That place was a wonderland. When I was in middle and high school, they were this kind of cool place with lots of weird cast-offs that you could turn into art if you were super clever with reuse. I’m not super clever with reuse; where other people see artistic possibilities, I just see stuff. But now, this place is so huge and full of stuff for less creative types like me: fabric, yarn, sewing notions, so much cool ephemera… I feel like I could definitely get a good collage out of paper I found there, and I think all my craft projects will now begin with a trip there. (Fortunately, in the same shopping center, there’s a local craft store, so I can hit all my needs in one trip.)

They also just sometimes have cool stuff. So, for example, I got my kid a gorgeous pair of fairy wings, a notebook, and a complete alphabet cookie cutter set. All 3 things for $9. Pretty great.

I’ve been thinking today about something Maria Bamford said – I think it was in her episode of The Hilarious World of Depression. She said that one of the times she was hospitalized for her mental illness, and before she met her husband, she saw the people in the psychiatric facility and how they had people who loved them visiting them, especially spouses and romantic partners. She said it made her realize that she didn’t have to wait until she loved herself for someone else to love her.

I think this is so important to remember. There’s a lot of rhetoric out there about how if you want to be loved, you have to love yourself first. But I’m here to tell you, and so is Maria Bamford: it’s just not so. You are worthy of love, whether you love yourself or not, and the people who love you will love you when you think you’re great and when you’re very down on yourself.

I was out at dinner with my family a couple days ago and four adults were sitting at the next table over, conversing about movies and books and society. For the first time since my son was born, I realized that I miss that flavor of conviviality.

Of course I love my kid more than anything in the world, but I also enjoy conversation that consists of more than “The potty IS a good place for poop!” and “I don’t know why Winnie the Pooh has a grumbly voice.”

To be fair, my kid and I actually have some solid commute conversations, but they’re still not the same as chatting with friends about pop culture and the world.

(Does this post – or my others about parenthood – mean I’m a mommy blogger now? When I was pregnant, my friend Whitney asked, jokingly, if I was going to become a mommy blogger once I had my kid and I was all, “Haha no!” But did I? Jenny Lawson and Heather B. Armstrong are considered mommy bloggers and I really like them, so I’m going to rock it, if that’s who I am now.)

We went to lunch with a friend of my son’s and her parents after the preschool Halloween party today. I thought, This will be great! The kids will entertain each other and we can have grown up talk!

Reader, that is not what happened.

Honestly, though, being a parent seems to mean being really behind on pop culture, so what would I even talk about besides either my kid or my work? And it turns out most people aren’t interested in talking about the spread of ethnography as a methodological approach beyond the field of anthropology, so work’s not great for much conversation, either.

My kid is so cute, though.

When we see a finished piece of writing, we rarely see all the mess that went into creating it. As Annette M. Markham and Nancy K. Baym point out in their book, Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method,

Research reports are carefully edited retrospectives, selected among different story lines and options, depending on one’s audience and goals. Within these reports, research designs are generally presented as a series of logical and chronologically ordered steps. Seasoned scholars know there’s a complex backstage story line and have experienced such complexities themselves. But for novice scholars, it is easy to imagine that the researcher’s route was successfully mapped out in advance and that interpretive findings simply emerged from the ground or fell conveniently into the path. Qualitative research requires a tolerance for chaos, ambiguity, and inductive thinking, yet its written accomplishments—particularly those published in chapters and articles rather than monographs—rarely display the researchers’ inductive pathways or the decisions that led them down those routes.

Two of my voice values are transparency and helpfulness, and I want to share some of the messier bits of my writing process. I have hopes of showing off some beautiful, colorful pen-marked-up copies of memos and notes to you in the future, but today, I’m just offering a few thoughts on freewriting.

I often hit a point where I’ve thought and thought and thought about something, ideas are all kind of swirly in my head, I’ve made notes, I’ve mapped concepts, and I’m still not ready to do formal writing for an audience that’s not me. I might be in a good place to talk to somebody, but honestly, I’m rarely around people who actually want to hear about things like affinity space ethnography (now I’m trying to imagine explaining ethnography to my 3 year old). When I’m in that place, eventually, I realize I need to…

FREEWRITE.

So I open up a new document and type out what I’ve got in my head, with notes to myself but also with citations. I know I’m not inventing anything new here, but this is part of the writing process that I think it’s easy for academics to forget.

Here’s what I freewrote today:

Ethnographic methods are appropriate for studying information literacy practices that are social and occur in an affinity space, as this looks at a sociocultural phenomenon, in a naturalistic setting. These methods cannot produce a full ethnography, but rather must be partial (Hine 2000). (BUT WHY? LIKE, THERE ARE REASONS, LEARN TO ARTICULATE THEM.)

Online spaces, however, present challenges to traditional ethnographic methods. Primary among these is the problem of location-based research; using spatial metaphors to define ethnographic research sites is limiting, because:
Practices travel across various online “spaces.”
Boundaries of online spaces are porous.
And, more and more, boundaries between online and offline activity are also porous.

(Hine, 2000; Leander & McKim, 2003; Wargo 2015, 2017)

Ethnography has some key features.

  1. The selection of a “field site.”
  2. Observation or participant observation.
  3. Interviews.
  4. Artifact analysis.

There are ways to approximate these features online. The field site is the trickiest bit. It’s possible to select one environment (for example, fanfiction.net) and consider its boundaries to be the boundaries of the field site, but this lends an incomplete picture.

Now, this is not a useful introduction to ethnography for anyone. It’s incomplete, it privileges data collection over more conceptual issues. But it’s helping me move forward in my writing.

I’ve been feeling moderately not okay lately. Nothing truly devastating, but a sense of doom. A sense of never being able to finish anything, of everything moving slower than I’d like while somehow also moving faster than I’d like. Of not being able to get out from under life.

I still feel that way, but I’m doing a little better today, for a couple of reasons.

  1. To appease my child, after returning some books to the university library today I went and visited with my advisor and one of my committee members, who is also a dear friend. I talked to them about my slow progress, my frustration, the stage of the work I’m in, the sense that this part is a slog. They affirmed that it’s normal to feel this way and that I’m still within my timeline for a May 2021 graduation, and I’m going to be okay. So, next time I feel this way, I should probably remember: talk to Sandra and Casey, because it always makes me feel better.
  2. A few weeks ago, I read Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map, which focuses on living according to your core desired feelings. My core desired feelings are ease, flow, creativity, and connection. I have not been doing things in alignment with bringing about these feelings, but I know that I have the power to switch things up so that I do live in that alignment, and remembering that I can do that has me feeling a lot better.

So, I’m still not okay, but now I believe I will be okay, later.

My blog post, A Start-to-Finish Literature Review Workflow, is probably the most viewed thing on my website. It’s a great overview, especially for people new to writing lit reviews. I’m pretty proud of it.

But it’s incomplete.

I’ve had plans for a long time now to write a more advanced lit review tips post, as well as one with some variations and modifications on that workflow.

But today I need to talk about what’s on my mind right now, which is that theoretical and methodological lit reviews are really different from lit reviews that describe a body of research on a particular topic.

The general workflow still works for these kinds of lit reviews, but once you get to that concept mapping stage, things get a little different. So here are a few things you might consider for these types of lit reviews.

Theoretical Lit Reviews

  • Trace the development of the theory. Who first articulated it? How has it changed over time? Who refined it? Who expanded it? What did they add?
  • Synthesize the development of the theory. As people refined and expanded it, how did those refinements and expansions interact with the theory as originally proposed? Can you pull it all together into a new statement that incorporates all those different things?
  • Discuss application of the theory. (This might be beyond the scope of your literature review, but it might not.) Who has applied the theory? How did they apply it? Did their application of the theory lead them to reconsider anything about the theory?

Methodological Lit Reviews

  • Identify the origins of the methodology. What type of thing was it created to study? What problem was it trying to solve?
  • Declare key characteristics of the methodology as it has been implemented over time. Not only what it was created to study, but how writing about it has contributed to our understanding of what the methodology is. For example, Hine (2000) discusses ethnography as involving travel (whether physical or experiential), participationobservation, the ethnographer as someone with the authority to describe the “field” where the ethnography has been undertaken, the participant/informant as a member of the culture being studied, and the reader of the ethnography as someone who has neither the participant nor ethnographer’s experience and thus is gaining understanding of the culture through the ethnographer’s account.
  • Describe methodological challenges that have arisen as people have implemented the methodology, and, where possible, how people have navigated those challenges.

I’m working on a literature review about affinity space ethnography/connective ethnography right now, and as I try to organize my thoughts, thinking about these things is helping me make sense of the tons of writing there is on ethnography more broadly.

References

Hine, C. (2000). Virtual Ethnography. SAGE.

Months ago now, Margy Thomas of ScholarShape released a 7-day email course called Deep Why. I tucked all the messages away in my Gmail archives and am just getting to them now. I’ll post my responses to some of them here on my blog.

The first prompt is to reflect on your manifesto:

 In writing a manifesto, we let ourselves imagine the positive change that we can create through the knowledge we’re building.

I’m writing one here. This isn’t a manifesto for life; it’s a manifesto specifically for my dissertation research. You can see the draft prospectus for that research here. Feel free to annotate it.

In the video that accompanied the prompt, Margy suggested that a manifesto articulates two things: VALUES and VISION. So that’s how I’m organizing this manifesto.

Values

My research takes an asset-based approach to information literacy. It’s easy to find doomy proclamations that kids don’t know how to find, evaluate, or use information. But they do it all the time, in pursuing their passions. Young people have information literacy: it just isn’t necessarily aligned with the way educators are attempting to teach and assess their information literacy. My research sees information literacy instruction and assessment as related to culturally sustaining pedagogy: just as young people’s heritage and community cultural practices are resources to honor, explore, and extend, so are their information literacy practices.

(So much credit is due to Dr. Crystle Martin, upon whose dissertation my work is building, for articulating this asset-based view of information literacy before me, and to Dr. Django Paris, for introducing the concept of culturally sustaining pedagogy, as well, of course, to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, for introducing culturally relevant pedagogy before that.)

Vision

In my research, I seek to apply Dr. Martin’s model of information literacy, which takes this asset-based approach, to a new context: the cosplay affinity space. I also hope to find ways to extend or enhance her model, as new pieces of the interest-driven information literacy picture emerge from my findings. The ultimate vision is to create an accessible, asset-based model of information literacy and then share it widely with librarians and educators, along with ideas for how they might teach and assess information literacy in ways that are aligned with young people’s individual and collective information literacy practices. Or, more colloquially:

I want librarians and educators to stop treating kids like they don’t already know how to deal with information, and instead to start looking for ways kids can transfer the skills they use to deal with information in their own interest-driven pursuits across contexts, to address their academic, professional, and everyday problems.