All posts by Kefah Ayesh

All The What If’s…

A question roaming around in my mind the past few weeks has been : ” Can the process of theory be unintentional? Technically according to Grounded Theory, the answer is yes. Grounded Theory as a Qualitative Research Method is one in which the theory is developed through the data collected. However what I am specifically trying to understand is the unconscious collection of data vis-à-vis poetic memoir.

The writing process of memoir in many ways mirrors the data collection in Grounded theory which occurs in a cyclical manner. Both seek to gain perceptions and understand experiences, but the aforementioned occurs at an unconscious level. Similarly both require the researcher to focuses on a process or actions occurring over time.

Another striking similarity between the methods in Grounded Theory and iMemoir writing process is coding. Once a Grounded Theory researcher as collected data, they must begin a series of coding procedures: taking memos, coding of themes which have been extracted, grouping of codes into concepts and then into categories. The writing process of memoir, specifically poetic memoir involves some levels of the same coding process. The writer constantly visits and revisits specific memories and events that may or may not be linear in an attempt to understand their own lived experience. Even though the extraction process is initially an afterthought, the writer makes a conscious effort to make sense, on an individual level, of what has been produced. Furthermore, both memoir and grounded theory allow the focus to shift according to data. What a memoir writers discovers about themselves often changes over the course of their writing. The emphasis on understanding rather than explaining further implies that poetic memoir can be considered a valid form of grounded theory. In many ways, it can be asserted that Memoir, specifically poetic memoir is in Unconscious method of grounded theory that creates a pathway to consciousness.

In the next coming weeks, I will read up on more poetic memoirs and the possibly coding and methodology that they entail.

A True You.

For some writers, writing just happens. We exhale and words seep unto blank pages. To some, this may sound like a poetic process to some but many writers grapple with making sense of what has been produced.

I spent much of the last week diving into pre-existing research on the process of memoir writing and issues of identity. Two books I found especially informative were:

Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities. By Mahmood Mamdani

The Art of Memoir by Marry Karr

In The Art of Memoir, Marry Karr states “The author of a lasting memoir manages to power past the initial defenses, digging part the false self to where the truer one waits to the more complicated story” (Karr, 38) This is something I struggle with deeply; Freeing myself of a presumed burden I carry.

Similarly, Mamdani presents many provoking arguments on issues of identify. He identifies key political eras that directly contribute not only to the displacement of so many, but their permanent minority status all over the world. The constant ” reimaging and redefining of the political community ” that occurs throughout the decolonization process but fails to address “the ideology of political modernity internalized under colonialism.” (Mamdani 34)

Mamdani addresses deep seeded issues of “citizenship” and “rights for whom” as a means of recognizing the political identity assumed under colonization as “not natural”. He invokes the readers mind to critically reflect on the invention of political identities as a tool to stratify and divide.

While Mamdani’s work seems unrelated to the work of memoir, it in fact helps clarify ” the truer self” mentioned in Karr’s work.

The process of memoir is deeply rooted in revealing what hides beneath the lived experience: The real you. As George Saunders beautifully writes,” We apply certain kinds of pressure to you, under which you are forced to flee to your highest ground…but hopefully, under that pressure, you leave behind all the false you’s- the imitative You, the too clever You, the Avoiding You- and settle into that ( sometimes, at first, disappointing) beast, Real You…Real you is all you have, and all the other paths are false. And in the best case, Real You is so happy to finally be recognized, it rewards you with Originality ” (Saunders 2013)

Works Cited

Karr, Marry. The Art of Memoir. HarperCollins , 2015.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020.

George Saunders. ” Failures of Kindness” MFA Graduation speech, Syracuse University, 2013

The Problem with remembering…is remembering.

This week I spent a lot of time researching memory and how our brain processes traumatic memories. Here are a few personal take-aways.

For so long, I couldn’t explain nor could I understand why I couldn’t remember. How does one forget something so devastating, so earth shattering? Its hard to fathom, isn’t it? grappling with this works two-fold for abuse victims. Not only does it make them doubt their own sanity and make them angry with themselves; but it also makes them seem unreliable and even worse, unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is the fact that many people still do not know or understand how the brain processes traumatic memories, this includes many abuse victims and people working within the court systems.

so while society and court systems are asking victims of abuse to remember and recall every small detail of the ordeals they survived, our brains interfere. For so long, this caused a lot of frustration within me, but in hindsight I am realizing that my body was my only sanctuary. My mind was protecting me and giving me time to process, time not afforded to me by the outside world. so while, intrusive memories and flashbacks are difficult to cope with I understand now my brain was functioning out of mercy. Isn’t a wonderous thing to realize our bodies are hardwired with the empathy we need in that moment?

Sometimes the lived experience can not be retold with a beginning, middle and end, sometimes in needs to be remembered through glimpses because the horrors are too overwhelming. Perhaps the most desperate moments we live through need to be remembered and retold through droplets over time. Perhaps the problem with recalling and remembering is not remembering at all, but a society that does not place empathy and care at the forefront in regards to traumatic experiences.

For so long, I didn’t realize my brain wasn’t working against me; rather it was intervening on my behalf and saying: “you need a moment”.

Spinning a Web of Methodology

“When we’re writing memoir, we’re writing the small moments. When we think about memory, memory does not come in a linear narrative. Memory comes to us with lots of white space around it—and that’s where the poetry is.” (Jacqueline Woodson)

This quote really resonated with me this past week as I continue researching methodologies that accurately fit within my thesis. I have been so invested in cornering my work into theories that I hold dear rather than allowing my work to speak for itself. It feels like I have been steering my work rather than allow my work to inform me. I spent much of the last few weeks looking through my writing and analyzing what themes arise.

My writings sprout into many interdisciplinary topics such as trauma, culture, politics, sociology, and psychology deeply rooted in memory. What has arisen are the nuances of my lived experiences paired with the invisible hand of silence and what has remained despite everything is memory. Howard Zinn states, ” The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.” (Howard Zinn).

Moving forward I plan to invest more time researching concepts such as “the colonized mind”, the importance of memoir for oppressed peoples, qualitative interviews, poetic memoir as grounded theory.

A few research questions that I have narrowed down are as follows:

What memory/event informed each specific writing? How was it significant in my life/growth.

How are some ways memories resurface in trauma victims?

How is memory processed in the minds of oppressed people?

M.A Thesis Origins

The content if my M.A Thesis sprouted from project I began as an undergraduate for the course, Ethnic American Literature. The end of the semester project students to develop a project that defined what the American dream.

How often we hear the words “American Dream”, accept it as a general truth and never reflect on how we have internalized what it truly means to us. I soon discovered my American dream was roadmap embossed in soul searching and unlearning.

In the Ethnic American Literature course, this roadmap was connected to the iconic American children’s story The wizard of Oz.  The iconic yellow brick road that led to the Emerald city was symbolic of my journey in finding my American-ness or The American Dream. As time progressed, that metaphoric yellow brick translated into a road I had to pave brick by brick and the only way to do that was to allow myself to speak my truth. To speak truths I had buried for so long. The process of unearthing those truths led me to ask why I had buried them to begin with.

My M.A Thesis is compromised of deeply person pieces of writings, never daring to call them legitimate poetry. Each piece representative of hurt, trauma and scattered healing process. It took me a long time to allow myself to write freely; I still struggle to write without guilt, but it was the writing that allowed me question where the guilt came from. I learned that so much guilt I carried stemmed from a longstanding tradition of holding many minorities accountable for their entire religion, race or culture. This soon led me to critically think about the effects colonialism had on my mindset; how I perceived the world and interacted with it.

In my mind, I still don’t see a paved yellow brick road, but allowing myself to be vulnerable and share my experiences with others tells me I have grown. Perhaps my path to self discovery is never ending. Every brick on this road is compromised of a sacrifice, mistakes, guilt and accomplishments; and I am learning to be Ok with that.