Love, as we are reminded (for better or worse) every year on this day, is a potent force in our lives. It can trigger wars, alter fates, save lives, redeem the lost; while under its thrall love can drive us poor humans to do unbelievably crazy things. Become heritage interpreters, for example.
I’m teetering on facetiousness, but not by that much. Two decades in the interpretive world has taught me that a passionate love for some aspect of the field – whether it’s a particular type of subject matter (history, wetlands, modern art, immigrant narratives, etc.), the interaction with people of all ages and backgrounds, the challenge of interpreting academic materials for a wider audience, the protection of a vital piece of the earth, or wrangling over the very philosophy of interpretation itself – is strong and present in people who choose to follow this path. There isn’t a conference I’ve attended where someone won’t inevitably point out that none of us are doing this for the money. Interpretation isn’t generally a field that attracts people looking for a 9-5, in-it-for-the-pay, TGIF, leave work at work type of life. We stay up all night making sure that the next day’s event will go off without a hitch, we drive ourselves crazy trying to pick the perfect typeface for our informational fliers, we work ourselves to the point of exhaustion to ensure that the animals, natural environments, and precious pieces of history, art, and culture are in the best possible situations we can manage, usually with shoestring resources and a severe dearth of time. We’re often not entirely sure what a weekend means to the rest of the human race anymore. But we love it, or we try to, as much as we can.
Because it’s hard. It’s hard to put your heart into your work and hope that the masses of strangers walking onto your site won’t tear it to shreds. Interpretation goes beyond requiring vulnerability. It demands it. How can you reach into that stranger’s world, get past their biases and defenses to bring them closer to inspiration and connection, without risking some part of yourself in the process? Love requires sacrifice: of ego, of control, of the ability to walk away and not care anymore. It challenges you in ways you never expected, even when you think you’ve encountered every possible challenge because our job is to engage humanity with the world in an infinite number of ways and humanity already has an infinite number of ways in which is can challenge us on its own.
So what do we do with this love that demands (and gives) so much? What do we do with it in a time where our roles are more intensely present than ever before? Politics is woven into our nature walks now; immigration bans are changing the art in our galleries; climate change, human rights, and public education are active and inescapable battlegrounds no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. And I see the strain in our faces. The frantic pace is pushed further and harder, and narratives interpreters were already passionately advocating for are reaching states of fight-or-flight desperation. We love, and we fight for what we love. But how can we do this without destroying ourselves in the process?
There are many articles, including on this very site, out now with wise advice: pace yourself, don’t get drawn into the exhaustion of daily outrage, focus on some positive news, take a break. I’m going to add one more that’s here especially for you: all of us. Region 3. NAI. Our crazy band of interpreters that make up a regional, national, and international network of people who know what it means to be our particular flavor of crazy in love. NAI is a resource for technical and professional materials, training, and opportunities, definitely. But even more than that, it’s a support network. If you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, bitter, or at a loss, there is a community of people that will have at least some idea of how you feel and how to make it through to a healthier state. At the very least we can lie down on the floor next to you and cry, laugh, rage, and wonder how we made it through some of these situations, or how we’re going to make it through the next.
Just a small sample of Sunny Southeasterners who can relate to your situation
In the Southeast Region, we’re at the epicenter of many of the shockwaves making their way through the continent. The upcoming regional conference in Kentucky March 7-10 is going to be a place where we can meet and remind each other that we’re not alone, but if you can’t make it to the conference, we are always here as an active and supportive community. Our weekly blog posts, our Facebook groups, and our State Coordinator gatherings are all avenues that exist for your well-being. Use them. Make comments, ask questions, plan activities, help each other out. We are here for you, and we’re not going anywhere. Because one of the best things about this crazy love for interpretation is that it never, ever should be a solo affair.