My brief foray into auto-ethnography of time management has come unstuck. The initial idea to work through self-help literature on time and write an immersive, reflective account of the utility of these techniques is appealing in the abstract but far harder to realise in practice. Auto-ethnography can be popularly dismissed as self-indulgent academic practice that detracts from the authenticity of research, but my experience confirms how difficult it is to put one’s own life under the microscope. Auto-ethnography demands honesty, openness and a willingness to expose vulnerabilities
I have reasons for having to put this project on hold. In the last two months both my sister and partner have had serious medical diagnoses and are waiting treatments. My father’s health is also declining. Responding to these different medical circumstances makes auto ethnography impossible for me at this time for three reasons.
Time, health and care
The most obvious reason is that much of my time is no longer my own. I too am caught up in the temporality of waiting with and waiting for and there is nothing I can do to expedite these processes. Care and healing take time. Time management self-help books assume a rather limited experience of the self. There are numerous references to the temporal challenges of being a parent, but being a sister, a daughter and a partner to adults who need care receives less attention. It is simply not possible for me to adopt the principle of sovereign control over time and respond to the responsibilities and commitments I have for others.
The second reason is maybe less obvious but one that I am very attune to. I am unwilling to expose my own emotional experience of time as these are often conflicting and not always positive. I feel resentment and guilt about what is happening. It is difficult to embrace improvement and progress for one family member if another remains trapped in the cycle of waiting. I have little appetite for exposing these conflicting responses.
Finally, there is an important ethical limitation. I cannot write about what is happening to my family as I do not have (and I have not asked for) their permission. The principles of ethical research do not just apply to strangers, but are equally relevant to those we are close to. Though family members sometimes need reminding of the principle of consent.
Habit of counting time
My colleague Mark Lucherini writes that the decision to expose vulnerabilities is not a choice, auto-ethnography is inescapable for many researchers who have to find their own way of coming to terms with exposing the self in research. In response to Mark’s observation I have found my own way of doing auto-ethnography. I am carrying on counting my own time and quantifying trends in how my time is spent in response to what is going on around me. Counting time has emerged as a method of revealing the self and simultaneously deflecting the need to expose vulnerabilities. I find comfort in recording clock time, even if it reveals how temporal routines are ruptured or unfulfilled. The habit of recording what I am doing at particular times (and places) provides certainty and grounding in uncertain times.