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Happiness Sucks

From: Colorado Review
Volume 40, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 3-19 | 10.1353/col.2013.0043

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

As president, founder, and sole member of the Inman Middle School Future Ethnographers Society, Damien Furnish-Moore felt duty bound to advocate for the use of qualitative anthropological methods among his eighth-grade peers. To this end, he had repeatedly urged Mrs. Knight, his social studies teacher, to incorporate ethnography into the curriculum, and she had, in due course, obliged him. During the month of March, students in the class were required to observe, interview, and write a report about their families, documenting their characteristics and customs.

Damien’s obsession with ethnography had erupted at the beginning of the school year, replacing his seventh-grade love affair with investigative journalism. At the time, he was serving as publisher, editor-in-chief, and star reporter of the Ipswicher, a neighborhood newspaper he had launched during the previous Christmas break. Having recruited a phalanx of writers, he printed a monthly issue and hand delivered it to the thirteen families on his street, as well as select households in a nearby subdivision.

As part of a series he called “Careers Uncovered,” he had interviewed his mother about her job as an anthropology professor. The ethnographer, she told him, was a lot like a foreign correspondent, living among distant peoples and trying to understand them—an insider and yet, at the same time, always an outsider. A participant-observer. That’s me, he had thought with an intoxicating surge of recognition and discomfort. A participant-observer. A month later he printed the last Ipswicher, declared the paper defunct, and began poring over his mother’s copy of Tristes Tropiques.

How many members are in your family? Name them, including yourself. What are their ages? What roles do they have within the larger family structure (e.g., “mother,” “stepfather,” “half sister,” “pet,” etc.)? List each person’s occupation.

There are 4 members in my family:

  • 1.   Martha Moore, 41 yrs, mom + wife, anthropologist, Emory University

  • 2.   Peter Furnish, 43 yrs, pet dad + husband, epidemiologist, CDC

  • 3.   Damien Furnish-Moore, 13½ yrs, son + brother, 8th grade student, IMS

  • 4.   Delilah Furnish-Moore, 97 days, daughter + sister, baby

Mrs. Knight paced in front of the board, brandishing a stub of chalk like a switchblade. “How do you tell the story of your family when you yourself play a crucial role in that story?”

A pained yet defiant silence hovered over the room. Damien raised his hand. Mrs. Knight peered at the rest of the classroom’s inhabitants as if searching for vital signs. With a small huff of disapproval, she scrawled the word “emic” on the board in boxy capitals. “Anyone besides Mr. Furnish-Moore like to take a stab?”

Desks creaked; someone coughed; someone else (Adam, probably) made a timid, flatulent sound. On the other side of Damien, Amelia “Ifeelya” Seymour, a pale, shapely girl with pink hair, scratched a question mark into the corner of her desk with a safety pin, glancing every now and again from beneath her bangs at Damien. He contemplated telling her the answer so that she could impress Mrs. Knight and bolster her participation grade, but instead he stared out the window with a wistful expressiveness, as if he yearned to be investigating the coming-of-age rituals of indigenous peoples in Costa Rica instead of fraternizing with his hormone-addled, half-wit peers.

“Remember, my lovelies, when you neglect the reading, you’re not letting me down, you’re letting yourselves down.”

From the assembled rows, a collective moan indicating world-weariness and remorse, mostly feigned. Damien forced himself not to smile. After a lengthy discourse on “emic,” Mrs. Knight distributed a fieldnotes worksheet with questions about kinship structure, physical geography, and rituals. Damien slipped his worksheet into a fresh manila folder; Adam sketched a well-endowed naked female in one corner of his; Amelia Seymour folded hers carefully at the bottom, licked the fold, tore the paper at the crease, and fashioned the remaining square into a swan, which she contemplated for one impassioned moment before crushing it with a pen-tattooed fist.

Damien watched Amelia shove her notebook into a faded military-style courier bag. She had developed early and was said to have psychological problems. On...



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