or, as subtly aggressively subtitled, ‘The treachery of elasticity’
“… the possibility of narrating the lived and passing to another person his/her life experience, makes the experience that is finite, infinite, and of fundamental importance for the construction of the collective notion.”
(Muylaert et al. 2014, p. 185)
My gratitude goes to Shooshi, for her time, her guidance, her kindness—for the person she is.
I have always been an overthinker, a perfectionist, someone always looking for approval—all of which had led to tangled ruminations over whom to choose when I was tasked with conducting a narrative interview with an individual in my dream profession. What do I want to take on upon graduation? Who do I want to become? Who can give me the most crucial advice?
After a few weeks of much contemplation, a realisation flashed through my mind when I was listening to my classmates’ heartfelt presentations about their family members, their mentors, their friends: it is not about me. It is about sharing the story of a person from whom I have learnt values that transcend the workplace into the ordinary life, not to spin their narrative in a direction that fits my agenda, but to honour the life they lead and the qualities they bring into this world.
I ended up having a pleasant and profound conversation with Dr Shoshana Dreyfus (or Shooshi), a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the University, who is also my mentor, and to whom I look up both as a researcher and a person. She has been one of the most influential figures to me during my time at uni and in life so far, and I am grateful for this chance to express my gratitude to her.
The life she leads is indeed so rich with experiences that it was challenging to sum up in a 10-minute presentation that followed. When I thanked Shooshi for the interview, she made the comment above. It got me thinking. Most of us often don’t have enough of a chance to connect the dots backwards; narrative practice does just that—it gives the storyteller a safe space to “[engage] in the work of constructing coherence under the circumstances of storytelling” (Gubrium & Holstein 1998, p. 164).
In both her professional and personal life, Shooshi has taken on a range of roles—a casual/part-time yoga instructor for more than twenty years, a linguist, an advocate in the disability and education sector (which she believes to be “where the [social] impact is”), a part-time Public Programs Editor at the Australian Museum, a mother of three, a partner, a full-time lecturer, a casual worker of choice.
Possessing a spirit for adventures, she went through these eventful and sometimes hostile phases with resilience and joy—a joie de vivre which easily brushes off on anyone around her. Her generosity is something shared by many leading fulfilling lives I’ve come to know through the beautiful presentations about Kenji’s filmmaker friend, Maggie’s amazing boss, and Alex’s mentor who is one of the kindest and most empathetic people I know. They all thrive on helping others “get there”—and it’s something we all should try to live by.
The other values Shooshi and many others who are caretakers—like Alex’s and Nini’s wonderful, loving fathers—hold dear to their heart are humane ones: love, family, and empathy. Yet most of the time, their workplaces don’t share the same view.
To bring one’s personal values into their work, then, becomes an ongoing, often furtive, battle to gain footing against the odds. Nevertheless, it is one that is commendable, and worth fighting.
Like Dr Renee Middlemost, Shooshi had undergone years of insecure, casual employment, from which she emerged where she wanted to be, almost unscathed thanks to her passion for her chosen fields. Looking back, she saw that period as “a fantastic opportunity” in spite of being “thrown into the deep end”.
The question is, as later posed by my tutor, what about the non-rubber balls?
Resilience, optimism, wittiness, joie de vivre, passion, generosity are what armour workers against the precarity of casualisation. But with such conscientious workers in it, the system is still perpetuated—as long as there are rubber-ball people whose passion and perseverance trump all hardships and encourage them to voluntarily enter casual employment. There is seemingly a toxic unspoken agreement among casual workers, that you are expected to go through all this, because everyone else is; the cycle continues.
Can our strengths also be what put, and keep, us under precarious circumstances?
Muylaert, CJ, Sarubbi Jr., V, Gallo, PR, Neto, MLR and Reis, AOA 2014, ‘Narrative interviews: an important resource in qualitative research’, Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 184-189.
Gubrium, JF & Holstein, JA 1998, ‘Narrative Practice and the Coherence of Personal Stories’, Sociological Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 163-187.
Presentation slides can be found here.