My Teachers, Part 4: Lessons from My Teachers

(Further notes after my first “My Teachers” post.)

Lessons from My Teachers:

Observe, observe, try to see in every moment, context, persons, relationships…I now call myself an “Anthropologist of the Ordinary.” (My sense is that many Anthropologists are more anthropologists of the …Exotic!)

Go to the field – live there for extended periods of time – take a “vacation” and return to the field, and not what (more) I see than I had before.

Went to U. Chicago for PhD – studied with linguist, N. McQuown who was supervisor in Mayan studies.

U. of C. became a kind of experiential fieldwork for my own experience examining the University (“the” University). Daughter born in Chicago. Then to Mexico.

Return home (big fieldwork to Mexico was for 2 years – with J. and 5-month-old Amy). Life is a “study” of society, politics, homes, money: rich and poor, and…and…

Return home after 2 years was amazing – arrived just before Bay of Pigs, with no sense that all this was about to occur (living in Chiapas-Mayan Highlands – no newspapers, no TV, hardly any radio,  not much knowing of the world.

Whew! Life is a “whew” – mainly from Birdwhistell.

Attend to language(s) – interactions, conversations, body movements – forms of linguistic articulation (summer in Taos paralanguage – how do we use/hear paralanguage in our own languages – tone of voice. Very interesting, complex – how do kids learn all this: how affects/shapes conversations, emotions…relationships…politics.

Study oneself; language, body – an ongoing study; contexts (how are we/I in this present moment) – from Erving Goffman (Birdwhistell’s student: “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”) – so what senses of “self” are kept private/hidden in different “public” settings?

Everything about interactions: gender (not much simpler after all these years – actually more “complicated…” – having a child, we were invited into (the depths of…) people’s houses. How we were seen: this large guy, a new mother/person, a baby with pink cheeks (very rare where we were) – of great interest to everyone. Always…politics.

Brought up in Buffalo – a multi-ethnic community at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism were generally declining: two years in a community mix of “Ladinos” and Native-American Mayans who had been living together/split for some 4 centuries. History, history. Coming back home to see ethnicity and everyone anew: (living in a “mixed” marriage…) So much about “culture,” different cultures in Chiapas (and at home). Cultures of Professors and Graduate Students in the field with us: from Chicago, Harvard, and Stanford – hints of academic politics. And more…

Maybe most informing/educational: living at home with a child who was learning both English and Spanish (and a bit of Tzotzil-Mayan). Medical issues: not much trained to note our own health: dysentery (very ”captivating”), other issues, some ongoing after 50 years. Health, eating, food: no refrigeration, no baby-food for sale (we had to cook it all “fresh” – Mexican “maids” – more sickness – charity in an essentially Catholic world (very different from Protestant America). Very few physicians, dentists. (I “lost” three teeth.)

Observe, note: keep track of all of this. Observe daughter growing, moving, talking – get to see many other kids/infants everywhere – lots of people outside in the tropics, with kids, feeding. Always quite receptive to us with Amy.

The levels of poverty in S. Mexico were unimaginable to us – hidden at home, they are aspects of our thinking always. How does money “work?” Differences between Ladinos and Indians in interactions, cultures: appearance, child-raising…culture, power…housing, villages, towns…

Lessons: observe (and observe oneself observing) – but not just in experimental or exotic situations: everywhere, everyone – always expanding, rethinking more broadly and exclusively (discovering one’s error, biases, assumptions…)

Observe in “ordinary,” exotic, tough times to help discover one’s thinking and experience-so-far…to update, broaden, deepen.

Returned home: to work at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic – examining patient-doctor interactions in clinical settings: linguistics, body-movements – how to note, record, analyse. What is psychosis? – what is…not? Healthy. Psychoanalysis.

Birdwhistell actually visited WPIC in Pittsburgh about once a month: got to watch him in interaction with Psychiatrists, patients, many others: the world’s best observer, he was. Still in my thinking: frequently…always.

Offered a Professorship by Trager at Buffalo – but I didn’t want to return “home” at that time. He’s still in my thinking: encapsulating Hall’s “The Silent Language.”

Life is/as kinds of fieldwork: how to see, in increasing depth – but finding ways to see more accurately, clearer, – rethink oneself-seeing…