Slam That #Ethnography – Bridging Distance: Letter writing

Originally posted on Allegra Lab on October 19 2016

Photo by Hernán Piñera

Photo by Hernán Piñera

By Sarita Fae Jarmack

It is always nerve-racking to perform at a panel, but I figure if I have followed the standards guided by those before me, tested amongst peers, and refined with the help of editors, surly not too much damage can be done reading all those blocks of words out loud. Academic papers have rules. They are formulated to conclude. They are structured into fact-packed and squared off paragraphs. As they generate currency, they have purpose, a destination. But a year into my PhD, I was wondering where is the space to explore the unconventional content, to experiment with unfinished content? Should I tuck it away for rainy Sunday mornings, pretending to separate it off from the process that goes into writing conference papers? As I am interested in blurring these boundaries, I took this ethnography slam as a space to do so. Under a group topic Dialogue, I shared about a fun habit of mine during fieldwork: letter writing. In some small way, through my practice I hope to continue experimenting with challenging this panel reading tradition.


…and for those days when writing just doesn’t seem so fun, making a recording of work is a nice alternative.

Sliding my hand across the paper in micro movements, my muscles contract with each hand-written letter. Can you see my hesitations between the words or the smudged trails of ink on the ends of sentences? I sulk in my horrendous spelling with scribbles here and there and purposely shmooshed together letters to hide my lack of commitment to awkward words. Pausing to warm my hands on the coffee cup, I set it down leaving a ring – a signature of its own on the papers of my life. The candles dance on the table while the hum of chatter and coffeehouse music plays in the background. My fingertips touch the corners of each paper, letting the sharp edge crease my skin.

Pulled from my core and spewed out as a canvas of thought, my hands slowly breathe life into my affection for those of whom the letters are received by. I meditate on your existence as I write. An extension of my being, bridging space and time with those at a distance. This letter is a place for others to mingle between the crevasses of my brain, the intimate contradictory thoughts of which my daily shortcomings are made of. I wish for it to be a dialogue of play between the realities in which you and I live amongst.

Those letters, with their unique fold, penmanship, smell, and touch; They go beyond the impact of which any email or text could possibly hold. They are tangible and travel with me, a piece of you and thus a piece of me in return, saved for years, left as windows into our lives and sealed with our own spit.