Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Material Culture: Writing Sample

Toni Collins has graciously agreed to share a couple of pages of her paper with all of us. Note the mix of informant voice, her voice, and solid ethnographic description. We get the feeling of "being there":

Her Place and MySpace

Jessica, a smiling sixteen-year-old girl, seemed to bounce out of her front door when I rang the bell at her home. Pulling me inside, phone in one hand and her dog’s pink rhinestone encrusted collar in the other, and I was instantly jettisoned into her world -- a world of laughter, clothes, parties, and phone conversations. I instantly noticed the large yellow lab puppy that she was trying desperately to hold back, all while balancing the phone on her neck and tugging me through the door. Her white cotton shirt was under a zip up hooded sweatshirt that flowed over her dark jeans that ended at the floor with pink socked feet peeking out.
“I’ll call ya back! I know, I know, ya gotta tell me what he said! Ya jus’ gotta!” Her infectious laughter rang through the three bedroom home she shares with her mom and stepfather. Her round face was tilted to the left, blue eyes sparkling, and long ash brown hair cascading down her back. “Message me on MySpace later! Love ya girlie!”
“Sorry about that, my girl was tellin’ me bout this boy at school, he is soooo hot! I think she likes him! I know I do,” she giggled sweetly. “So, do ya want the tour, or do I jus’ hang back and let ya explore?”
“I expect the grand tour,” I exclaimed to her as she yanked on my arm babbling on about the new boy in school.
We walked quickly down the narrow hallway past the spare room, laundry area, and bathroom until we came to the door at the far end of the hall, Jessy’s door. The door was nondescript except for the chew marks at the bottom where her new puppy had been gnawing at the small crack under the door. The handle was a simple brass knob that had seen better days, but as she turned the handle I was transported into a new magical world, the world of the middle class teenager in a small town in South Jersey; I was transported into Jessy’s world.
Jessy flitted around the room like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. As I wondered in behind her I tried to take in the entire room at once to get a feel for how she sees the space. It wasn’t hard to do. As I scanned the room, so many things begged a closer look. The scent of baby powder hung in the air, a reminder of the child that still lingered in this young woman’s body. To the left was the large closet with double doors made of oak, slightly ajar, clothes spilling onto the floor. Bright whites, pastel pinks and purples, and jeans of every description were strewn half in and half out of the closet door. Lacey button up shirts and heavy sweatshirts mingled together. Black sneakers sat propped up against the creamy beige wall next to the closet while pink and white sneakers sat neatly in front of the light oak dresser. The mirror over the dresser was framed with pictures of family and girlfriends all neatly taped to the glass or tucked under the framing. Smiling faces and young girls striking poses as they played in front of the camera peered out from the photos. A black sparkling belt draped carelessly over the mirror frame hung loosely brushing the dresser top softly. I quickly scanned the dresser top for clues to the mystery that was Jessy. Make-up in various colors jumbled together with hair ties and combs and hairspray and half empty gel containers tossed casually across the surface of the dresser area oozing slightly onto the pile of birthday cards saved from several weeks ago, all proclaiming, “Happy 16th Birthday” in beautiful vibrant print. The drawers seemed to leak various articles of underclothes and pajamas.
The far wall was a composite of three sill-less windows with elegant burgundy and gold curtains adorning them. Inches from the wall a neatly made full size bed sat decadently enveloped in the same burgundy and gold material that adorned the windows with 3 perfectly matched pillows arranged at the head leaning still against the fluffy shams. The third wall consisted of a 6 drawer chest with jewelry, CD’s, and movies strewn haphazardly on the top. T-shirts and jeans seemed to creep from the half open drawers onto the beige carpet underneath. The final wall was virtually empty save the pink and cream backpack spilling purple, red, and blue notebooks, gel and sparkle pens, and highlighter markers from its gaping mouth. Papers crumbled up, wrinkled, and folded with initials and names blazoned on the edges, and heart and geometric shapes adorned the crinkled pages of a notebook on the floor half-opened and well-used. Curiously, the light switch was decorated with animals and Noah’s Ark as if harkening to a childhood not quite left behind. There were no posters on the walls, but there were pictures of her sister and nephew taped to the wall next to the light switch.
“Well, this is ma room. That’s ma iPod…O’Ma God, isn’t it cute?” She squealed with excitement as I looked to where she pointed to see a pretty pink iPod with pink gel earphones thrown on the dresser with her makeup.
“Yeah, I love it! Where did you get it?” I tried not to influence her, but her excitement was highly contagious.
“Mommy bought it for me for Christmas. It has a 30 gigabyte hard drive and I have over 300 songs and videos on it. “
“Wow, that’s a lot of songs!” She was so excited that for the next ten minutes I listened to snippets from one song after another on her iPod. It seemed that for Jessy music was a big deal, as well as the name brand mp3 player she used to play it on. Before I had time to digest the iPod incident I found myself being pulled across the room to the mirrored dresser staring at photographs and notes with hearts drawn on them.
“This is my friend Cherish. She is a total goofball! This is Aunt Franny last Easter and Nanny on her birthday. Oh! This is Trisha (her sister) with little Aiden when they came up from Tampa!” She pointed at one picture and then another. “And this is Matt’s number!”
The next thing I knew I was being catapulted to the closet where Jessy pulled out one outfit after another. She didn’t seem to care about the designer, but the style was important. She explained how she shopped for clothes by exclaiming, “I call my friends Felicia and Cherish Boo, and we hit the mall. We like to look in all the windows to see what the stores have out, and then we go back and get what looks good on the mannequin thingies.” Her smile brightens as she talks about clothes and having just the right shoes for an outfit.


Katrina said...

I am feeling jealous. My informants were not enthusiastic, at all, while sharing their rooms with me. :frown:

Gina Marie said...

Yeah, mine weren't very exciting either. They were just, this is it. No excitement.