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April 2, 2017: The Writing Life: Ta Pocketa, Ta Pocketa, History Repeats Itself

The flight from Dutch Harbor back to Anchorage was uneventful, smooth, without incident, except for the fact that two drunk guys made a whole lot of noise while boarding and during the first part of the flight. But they did settle down. We flew over a cloud cover the entire way, then there was a slightly bumpy descent into Anchorage – I was overjoyed to see the Fire Island wind turbines.

I figured out something really important; too late to help in this instance, but no matter. What I figured out is going to be useful in future endeavors. This is that our identities are shaped by our own self-perceptions. A case in point – at the onset of this trip I merely considered myself to be Kathy Day’s travelling companion. But on the flight home I saw myself for what

I really was in this particular instance, which is her writing coach.

As such, it was my job to assist her in making sense of what’s going on in terms of her dissertation project. She’s dealing right now, as she has been all along, with audience concerns. It’s a tough one – this goes beyond dealing with organizational concerns. First of all, she’s been affiliated with a college in Wales, England – has been there three times while working on this project, most recently to defend her dissertation. The way the quasi program is set up actually sets up people like Kathy, an individual working at the distance, for failure. She hasn’t taken any face-to-face classes, has no classmates, and has no committee to work with. All she’s had is an ineffectual advisor who recently was laid off.

Kathy isn’t an expert in academic writing. Given this, I think that she done really well in doing research and getting her ideas on paper. She is also one of the most tenacious people I have ever met.

As it turned out, her dissertation committee was comprised of archeologists, not anthropologists, which is her area. The expectation of the archeologists (which made itself apparent at her defense) was that her project have more of an archeological bent. It was for this reason that one in particular encouraged her to “go to the Aleutians and experience the landscape,” and “to look at artifacts in the museum.”

The landscape – the Aleutians is a vast area – it’s comprised of thousands of islands, all of which are like the state of Alaska’s tail. The landscape, this time of year, what we saw, was winter bleak. On Friday, the first day we were there, the wind and sleet forced us to walk backwards because the sleet stung the skin. As for the museum – Kathy was told upon arriving that the artifacts she wanted to examine had recently been sent back to Anchorage. The most significant artifact was an infant mummy, well worth seeing as was the x-rays. But this wasn’t enough to justify what turned out to be a short and expensive trip.

In the evenings, in our motel, I assisted Kathy in further defining her dissertation goals and objectives. Her objectives were comprehensible and logical, but her aim, which in such instances is to note how her work is going to advance the ongoing scholarly argument in the field of cultural anthropology – fell short. Kathy just kept bringing up more objectives. I finally told myself that she will further flesh this out during the revisionary process.

What I further realized on the plane flight home is that my initially failing to see that my self-identity as a writing coach was a shortcoming. But from this point in time on I will, in talking to people about this trip, tell people that I went to the Aleutians as a writing coach (which I was) and construct my story around this character-related premise.

People create self-identities. I need to do more of this. I’m a writing coach. Imagine that.

Next: 93. 4/3/17: The Horse Life: Four on the Floor

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