Archeology can change your life. Archeology can lead to personal growth. It doesn’t even have to be impressive archeology. For those particularly prone to life-changing events like me, it can be something quite minor. Like an article about excavating a 150 year old house in a small city called Adelaide at the bottom of Australia. No, it wasn’t the house of my ancestors, I wasn’t involved in the dig – heck, all they were looking for were sets of dinner plates. So what could be so inspirational about that? How could one get excited about archeology of the mundane, about a not very ancient house in the suburbs of a backward, quiet sprawlopolis, a report on a search for crockery?
‘The Ideology of Domesticity and the Working-Class Women and Children of Port Adelaide, 1840-1890’ by Lampard talks about people striving for status and respectability in the 19th Century. I discovered the article four years ago and it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. This is despite my not really knowing why. It’s like my mind put a bookmark in my life at that point and has patiently waited for the rest of me to catch up with its significance, and go back for a closer look. Now, in 2013, I finally have.
The article is about literally digging through deposits of possessions at a few households in a dockside working class suburb. It mentions proper archeological activities like counting how many buttons and other items related to sewing exist in the deposit. They also looked for matching sets of teacups and dinner plates in these deposits of 150 year old items at each house. They inferred a family was of higher status when they found matching sets.
Deposit is quite a lovely word to use because it comprehensively depersonalises the set of possessions of a household found at a site. It makes one think of one’s own entire set of possessions within one’s house – how would a stranger, god forbid an inquisitive archeologist keen on making historical and cross cultural comparisons, summarise my life based on what items they found in my living room and kitchen?
The idea of such an examination set off a chain of reflections for me. I acknowledged something I have known, but simultaneously tried to keep secret from myself and especially others. I am desperately seeking status. I have always been vaguely, and sometimes quite plainly, aware that I am of low status. At school as a kid, it was obvious I was not from a rich family. Growing up, there was always this annoying aunty who gave my sister and I hand-me-down clothes from her own children. These were often better than the clothes my parents bought us. As a kid, I was also quite aware of the distinct groups of people based on status. The kids from richer families hung out together. They were cooler too as they had more possessions, and the possessions were more exciting. For example they had mobile phones in high school. This was back in the late nineties, early 2000s when having a mobile was more expensive.
Observing all of these consequences of status had a big impact on me as a child. It made me quite competitive. I realise now that I became from a very young age fundamentally motivated to change my status. To improve it. To essentially be one of those rich kids. I also realise that this motivation remains with me as an adult. So what are some examples of ways I have demonstrated my obsession with status, beyond childhood?
Take my decision to study psychology. I made this decision when I was 18, probably the biggest decision I first made as an adult. I was attracted to it for two reasons, it was a high paying profession and it required a high Grade 12 score to get into. These two elements of eliteness attracted me enough to enroll. What really makes this an obvious status based decision though is that I am completely incapable of reading minds and of socialising well. I had no good reason therefore to study psychology based on my talents or interests. Psychology is also highly theoretical, there is no getting your hands dirty working on a project outdoors for example. Instead, there is lots of research methods critique and analysis of thought and sometimes emotions. If I had been honest with myself I would have avoided the degree like the plague, knowing it would make me unhappy.
But I didn’t. And I soldiered through a four year degree hating it, but not allowing myself to act on this feeling – further proving my unsuitableness for psychology come to think of it! All because I thought my status would increase. And it would have, if I had liked it enough to invest fully in it, do well enough to get into Master’s, then start a career. But because I kept secret from myself my unsuitableness for the field I never could invest in it, never could feel passionate about it, and ironically never increased my status because of it. I got a horrific job afterward doing disability support pension assessments, did that for 10 months, then quit the career altogether after getting burnt out. Yes, my brief psychology career caused mental health problems.
Are there any other examples of this secret motivation? Yes! I am here. I am an expat, paid well, though living as a foreigner. I knew no one before I came and I can’t speak the language. I left behind someone I loved, whom I was beginning to think about from a long-term perspective. These are large sacrifices for anyone to make.
I left all that behind to work for a leading global engineering firm on a massive, pioneering environmental rehabilitation project. Yep, definitely sounding like this relates to status again. For sure. Funnily enough, the father of the family that I had status issues with as a kid because we got hand-me-down clothes from them also worked in Kuwait once. I feel like I am here showing I can do what he did.
And maybe that makes me feel like I’ve made it. And maybe that makes me feel like I can finally acknowledge this secret motivation. It’s served its purpose of increasing status. Since it’s made my life hell, my subconscious mind has kindly released it to my consciousness, allowed me the chance to seek freedom. Freedom from collecting matching dinner plates for archeologists to write about in the year 2163, for example.
Again I say I am grateful for this writing club. I am grateful, too, to Lampard for changing a life through digging up old cups and plates. I am grateful for the chance to work it all out, and realise it’s all going to be ok. Also, now I’m a rich person, I can finally see what I’ve been missing out on. You know what that is? It is the annoying feeling that there are yet more rich people of even higher status above me. I’m done with this. I just want contentment now, efficiently.