13 November 2009

confronting the hard parts.

I like what I do. It's a privilege to tell the stories of others. I've enjoyed meeting the people I study. I love going to conferences, I love going to class, I love the feeling the feeling of opening up a box and not knowing what I'm going to find. The challenges of interpreting the past engage me deeply. I have made a lot of sacrifices because being a historian is so satisfying and rewarding that I want to do it for my whole life, and I want desperately to learn how to do it well.

I love to study New Right conservatives. I admire their passion and temerity. Their rhetoric and writing captivates me. Making sense of a time in which my parents came of age and the moment I was born into has great appeal for me. I have come along way since I started studying these people, and I really, genuinely appreciate what they have to say and how they challenge my worldview.

I say all this because today I had to confront the aspect of my topic I hate the most. It's impossible to write about the New Right without talking about abortion.  For many social conservatives, it's the reason they mobilized, the one thing in the world that they would give anything to change.

I hate reading about it. I hate talking about it. I would do anything to avoid it all together.

The descriptions in pro-life literature, while well-intentioned, are often grizzly and grotesque. They depict excessive and unusual procedures, and overemphasize poorly handled situations.  I concede that it is purposeful and deliberate language. But I think that by and large pro-life accounts are as decadent as the behaviors they are intended to critique.

It has little to do with the fact that I'm pro-choice. I believe that women should have  access to safe medical procedures should they elect to do so. I stand with Linda Gordon in acknowledging that women have made this choice throughout history regardless of its legality, and with Barack Obama who feels that unwanted pregnancies should be prevented through affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I believe that it is not a question of either / or. But my politics seldom enter the picture. I am guided by professional ethics and exercise a level of restraint that others have called judicious and even admirable. What I write is not about me. I am not trying to change anybody's mind, nor am I open to my mind being changed.

I just don't like reading about blood and tissue. Needles, suction, disposal, no thank you. I think it's a terrible way to spend the day. It makes me miserable. I don't find it enjoyable to try to understand what's going on in the text; I find it so abhorrent that I struggle to get motivated when I have to address the issue. It's impossible to focus on, requiring breaks, endless coffee, snacks, checking of blogs, email, twitter, and anything that might offer relief from the task.  If someone called and said, "Hey, would you like to come clean my toilet?" I would probably opt for that.  My work ends with descent into exhaustion and then unsatisfying naps. I wind up feeling drained and find it near impossible to shake off the dirty feeling I get from reading this rubbish. To use a turn of phrase from my Mormon days, it offends my spirit.

I love what I do. I love what I study. I wouldn't change my path even if I could. 
But what do we do with the parts of our jobs- our vocations- that we hate? 


Big Sister said...

We all have parts of our chosen work which we dislike greatly or even hate. For some it is staff meetings, time sheets or the drone of the telephone which you know no one will answer except yourself. At the end of the day, I for one feel a great satisfaction knowing that the things that I love and hate most (as they do go hand in hand) about my job are the things that impassion not only myself but others. These are the topics that make us grow as humans, make us question ourselves and our community. The fact that this topic distresses you makes it all the more invaluable. The fact that you can translate these topics with an unbiased hand is exactly why you must step away from the toilet cleaning and continue with your work. It is abhorrent, but it is part of our lives, the decisions made about it impact my life everyday. The way that that history is interpreted can change the way in which we live today. I may not say it enough, but thank you for your work.

Adam said...

"If someone called and said, "Hey, would you like to come clean my toilet?" I would probably opt for that."

Win win for everybody. I'll send you my address in an email. You might want to bring a hazmat suit.

I'm happy to provide you with a study break. ;-)