Field notes: Practice Makes Perfect

Whether it’s obvious or not, I will openly admit to being a research novice. That’s not to say I’m incompetent, but I’ve only just begun delving into discovery in this particular manner. So what’s a girl to do when a simple thing like field notes sends her into a confusion. Try. Learn. Practice. So that’s what I did.

Gearing up for the pageant this Sunday, I spent an evening at the local bookstore. I’ve scanned in pictures of my notes taken over two hours of observation and experimentation. I’m also working off advice fromĀ Robert Emerson’s, “Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.”

Picture 1


Picture 2


Picture 3


Picture 4


Picture 5


Picture 6


Picture 7


As you can see, it’s all a mish-mash of nonsense, too much detail, and nothing truly important. I also missed out on actually interacting with any of the customers, employees, or studiers that were in the shop. In my defense, by the time I’d begun my practice the hour was late and there were few people milling about.

I chose to hang around the upper level, where there are tables for readers and, due to it being a University book store, students studying. Referencing the notes in picture 4, there was a younger boy working at a table. The average number of chairs around one spot or another was two, the cherrywood lacquer bright under the store lights, the ribs and legs of the chairs a black stain that gave the set-up an academic feel. It was obvious that whoever designed the decor wanted to bring in the feel of a high end University library, at least a bit. HIs set up was three chair, a fresh backpack sitting in one, the one across sitting skewed and empty.

Now the boy, by his soft face and lack of duct-tape on his backpack, struck me as a sophomore. His long suffering sighs were contained, but the spark of hope and energy in his eyes had dimmed to a smolder. A junior wouldn’t have a spark at all. A senior would be studying down in the cafe, within reach of their lifeblood, Starbucks.

An oversized gray t-shirt hung loosely on his frame, dark jeans held tight to his waist by belt, and his white Nikes did nothing to aid an athletic image. Tense, he leaned over his Mac book, typing slow, glancing every now and again to a textbook on his other side. His boyish face was framed by an overgrown crew cut, and I could see his jaw clench as his mental gears turned.

I had snuggled in to a large armchair near his table, a place designed for books instead of computers, and tried not to look creepy. It’s kind of hard not to give away my own uncomfortable feelings, and my face must have shown something, as a few other studiers threw questioning glances my way. My armchair had a companion, both turned to curl around a low, round coffee table set at just the right heigh to be a footrest. I expected to have the whole section to my self, as personal bubbles expand in public, especially the personal space of a person trying to study. Imagine my surprise when Sophomore Gray Shirt rose from his chair and made a beeline for the armchair beside me. He collapsed in it, studiously avoiding eye contact, and picked up a small, black book I’d only vaguely noted sitting on the coffee table.

Here’s my chance, I thought, to interact! I can practice striking up conversation. No one invades another’s space like this unless they want to have some sort of talking!

“Hey,” I said. Smooth, crisp, and a little soft, I was proud of that opening line. I put on my winning smile and flipped a bit of hair. Oh yeah, conversation started. His response, rather than a shy smile and a verbal response, was to shoot me a glare so harsh my heart skipped.

It was at this point I noticed the title of the book he clenched. “The Little Book of String Theory,” by Steven Gubster. Oh. The glare made much more sense, and I realized it was not he who was invading my space, but I his. Oops.

After I made an embarrassed retreat, the boy packed up, yanked a gray beanie over his ears, and stalked off. Most likely to find a spot where well-meaning girls don’t interrupt his theoretical physics studies.


2 thoughts on “Field notes: Practice Makes Perfect

  1. Jessica, you did such a great job with this post. After reading this, I realized that I am not doing as good of a job writing my own blog posts for a more public audience. I really like the explanation you gave for this practice in your introduction to this post. : )

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