Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Balance

Recently a fieldworker friend on Facebook was prepping for a trip to her fieldsite, where the mosquitoes are far larger, if far less contagious, than in Papua, posted to ask whether it’s ok/normal to be apprehensive as well as excited on the way to the field. Answer: Yes! I love what I do. I’m terrified of it. I want to stay in the field forever. I want to go home yesterday. It’s wonderful. It’s hard. Some days it reminds me why I put up with all the bullshit that academia occasionally entails, because this is so fascinating and great. Some days it really sucks. I suspect most fieldworkers have mixed feelings about their work – at least that’s the impression I got from the comments responding to that post. Fieldworkers are funny. We love to swap horror stories at conferences – the time I got malaria twice in one month, the time a poisonous snake barged in on my recording session, the time I impaled myself on a rusty spike and might have gotten tetanus. And we tell them as the awesome stories they are, and we get laughs. We publish about our wonderful projects and our groundbreaking results and give a nod to the challenges but focus on the successes. But we don’t usually talk about how hard it is, how lonely it can be, how hot and sweaty and cold and unfunnily (sometimes literally) shitty. And I think it’s important to acknowledge all of that, to say out loud in public and to each other and especially to our students that it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to have reservations about going, it’s okay to not love it 100%, or even 70%, if loving it 60% makes the other 40 worthwhile. That’s all normal. I write this as I plan a field trip for next summer, after what by then will be a two-year dissertating/job-getting/teaching/other-research hiatus. I’m planning to bring two students with me, as well as my partner. How do I prepare them, honestly? What do I tell them? It’s great! It’s beautiful! It’s exciting! You’ll love it! Sometimes it won’t be any of those things, and you won’t love it at all! I’m nervous too! We’ll all be fine, and the good days will be worth the bad ones, and it will be an adventure.

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