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Great ideas come in Bars

It’s amazing to me how much more relevant and interesting a book (Grbich 2013) about qualitative data analysis is, when I read it in an afternoon bar half-full of regulars.

…subjectivity has value (meaning that both the views of the participant and those of you the researcher are to be respected, acknowledged, and incorporated as data, and the interpretation of this data will be constructed by both of you (the researcher is not a distant neutral being)… (p.4)

(I aimed my phone cleverly to avoid taking pics of any of the ten regulars here).

The music that plays above my head seems to be formula quasi-country-rock (sweet female vocalist); the six TV screens I can mostly see from where I sit (the mostly unused corner of the bar) are playing either a feature on the Harlem Globetrotters or a darts tournament.  I don’t have a TV, and I would never search quasi-country-rock on spotify, if I had spotify, so I’m fascinated by what I don’t know about all of it.  There are three plaid shirts and two ballcaps here (I don’t want to be rude and stare long enough to see what the caps are advertising), and there’s me, cello player/writer/vocalist/masters student and Carol Grbich, who is from Australia, in book-form.  She is open at the moment.


I ejected myself from my comfortable house (three desks and a great library, nice sound system and eclectic, slightly nostalgic vinyl music collection, art studio with three projects in progress) after reading this article about the dramatic effect on teens of too much internet and not enough in-person people.

Also this, a short story published in a New Yorker’s December issue which has gone viral beyond what author Kristen Roupenian could have imagined, the why of which we’re still sorting out (in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Economist, The Guardian…..  Here’s what Roupenian says about it in a December New York Times interview, and a quote from same.

You’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, but you said you’ve only really committed in the last five years. Was there a catalyst?

Ha, yeah. I was at a bar with my friend. I was close to finishing my Ph.D., and I’d made it through almost the entire process of entering the Foreign Service. I’d had a few beers, and I was talking passionately about how, by becoming a diplomat, I was going to live my second-best-possible life. It wasn’t my No. 1, absolute dream, but it was pretty great … and trying to be a writer was too risky.

Here’s a December 20 Guardian article reporting her seven figure book deal as a result of the story.  Bars.  People.

All the regulars have left (only one was female).  I wonder if it was me and Carol here, drinking beer and writing, but I don’t think so.  A sixty-ish regular has come in.  She doesn’t make eye contact.

Oh yes, I will read Women & Power:  A Manifesto, by Mary Beard, because a social media friend (male) posted about it and of course there’s no excuse whatsoever to stop reading at the reviews. It was published around the same time as Roupenian’s piece, has made waves in the academic world similar to those that Cat People has made in social and news media.

In the meantime, Carol and I are talking about subjectivity.  She is a PhD of international renown and I am a mid-study but mature masters student.  We are in a bar in a relatively large rural town where I’ve lived for the past twenty-five years.

I like those guys with their shirts and ballcaps, who don’t recognize the franchise’s playlist any more than I do.  I make them nervous with my laptop, but if I went over there to talk to them they’d be mostly delighted.  Curious about what the hell I’m working on.  They could be book readers, but I’d bet it’s not their first language.  They’d look at what I’m reading and guffaw at the ceiling, shake their heads at the table, make a perfect, comment, grounded in common sense…  I find that comforting.

I should note that there’s a rougher bar downtown.  For twenty years I worked there in the afternoons and was protected by the more salacious, all male regulars by the powerful, all-female bar & kitchen staff.  Ownership has since changed and last year they painted the place – an historic century hotel deeply embedded in the town’s weekly habits – a hard light green.  It’s hard to write inside an after-dinner mint, no matter how hospitable the staff, or interesting the regulars.



I bring up issues of relevance, to Carol.  How do I make what I do meaningful for those guys?  How do I translate to their comfortable, sensible, grounded language, so we too can debate what’s important and what’s not?

She is from Australia, and it’s 2018, so she gets it (I think).  We are both white female colonials, living on land we don’t own, transplanted from our original cultures various generations ago.  Who says who owns anything, in any conversation?  But still we talk.

We talk about research.  Subjectivity, relevance, women, men, manifestos, 2018, and what to do about it.


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