A Solitary Occupation

There came a certain time in my undergrad that I had to sit my family down for a chat.

I was in my final year. I’d been pushing hard for several years at that point, taking Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter semesters back to back and filling in the gaps with block week courses. At the beginning of the term, I was excited — the end was in sight! By midterms, the stress was mounting. I was doing late nights in the labs — doing lithic analysis on +500 pieces of debitage, memorising the location of tuberosities on bones — writing an honours thesis, and doing research for several regular term papers. This, of course, was while I was also holding down two jobs. Social life was commiserating over how many pieces of lithic shatter you happened to get in your lab sample.

A couple of weeks before midterms, I approached my family. I told them my schedule. I told them how much work I’d have to do over the next few weeks. “I apologise in advance: I will be stressed, I will be bitchy. It will pass.”

My family has gone through its share of shit. The only thing that got us through it all is communication. Through talking, especially when we didn’t want to talk, we managed to get through some pretty nasty stuff and I’d like to say we’re stronger for it. So I tried to take advantage of this established foundation and prepare them for the battle ahead. In the beginning, my family was gracious and accommodating. By the end, everyone was taxed. That was when I began to appreciate what it is truly like being a post-secondary student. And if you aren’t one, it’s very difficult to appreciate what comes with the gig.

Fast-forward a few years. Said student is now a consulting archaeologist. Social life is now commiseration about clients, regulatory changes, and fighting with your computer to get the formatting on your report correct. The distance between you and family and friends has grown because you never see them. You are gone for weeks, if not months at a time and when you’re home, you’re at the office or doing laundry. No matter how much to you try to explain, they don’t understand the lifestyle of consulting.

My family, once again, is very understanding. They understand when I don’t call for weeks, miss birthdays, and am sick of eating in restaurants. Much is still resolved by constant communication. Sometimes the effort is staggering. My friends, however, have dropped in number. Archaeology on friendships is like tragedy on marriage: it can either bond you for life or make you never want to see that person again. In archaeology, you sleep, eat, travel, dig, and socialise with your co-workers. When you’re not working, all you talk about is work. If you have a disagreement with a colleague, you need to find a way to work it out because you are stuck together for the next three weeks/months/years. The shear intensity of the community in archaeology can make you love the people you’re with or hate everyone. And like the university experience, if you aren’t in it, it’s very difficult to fully appreciate it.

It’s a successively exclusionary type of experience, from the post-secondary education to consulting archaeology. Fewer and fewer people can relate to and understand it. Add to this starting your own archaeology company and suddenly you have a very small cohort of people with whom you can commiserate and seek compassion.

I am a Grade A shit disturber. I have an outstanding and uncanny ability to piss people off. My friends and family know and accept this under normal circumstances. However, in starting my own archaeology company, I have found new and improved ways of alienating people. I’ve always tried to avoid mixing personal and business; in archaeology, mixing is unavoidable. I nearly wrecked a 30 year friendship and put a rift in my family by trying to involve non-archaeology people in my archaeology business. Thankfully umpteen years of communication and effort have built relationships that can withstand a mere disagreement. But the memory of those disagreements make me treasure my friends and family more. For they are what keep me sane, keep me talking, and keep me from believing I am living a solitary life.


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