Sunday 21 April 2013

Caution: Autobiographical. I'm Tellin' Ya. It's Like My Life Has Been One Big Clerical Error ...

... how else to explain some of the improbable things that happen to me? A case in point.

The names of the hosts, the time and the location have been redacted.
I guess it wasn't enough to have been accepted into the Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley straight from a B.A. at Simon Fraser, with full funding for four years, and been supervised by Clark Howell, Meg Conkey, and Diane Gifford-Gonzalez. Proof that it wasn't enough? A few weeks ago, plop, into my email inbox came the above-pictured verrrry smart-looking invitation to join in a 45th anniversary celebration of the Leakey Foundation, in an unassuming country castle in a quiet rural burg just north of California's wine country. Besides me, the guest list includes all of the Foundation's hyper-well-off Board of Director-type people, it's no-doubt-equally well-off donors, and, most likely, anyone who's anyone in Palaeoanthropology [which, by the way, doesn't include me], going back decades. In addition, this year marks the fortieth year on the Board of Directors of one Gordon P. Getty. Yep. The same.

Not only am I invited for dinner. I'm also invited to a brunch the next morning. That promises to be like old home week. Check it out.

Randy White authored "Rethinking the Middle/Upper Paleolithic Transition" (Current Anthropology 23, 169--192) shortly before I started my B.A. in Archaeology. It was influential in many ways, and White's, along with other workers and their works,  contributed much to my archaeological upbringing. The names of the hosts, the time and the location have been redacted.
Professor White and I are both Canadian. We both work on the same issues. We're almost the same age. That makes us practically related, fer hevvensake!

Nevertheless, I, thinking that my invitation was a misprint or a clerical error, and before [or, simply, for those of us who know French], emailed to inquire as to the reason I found myself on the guest list. Long pause. The person at the other end of the internet asked if I thought I'd been included due to an error.

[If you're familiar with my life and work, you'll already know that a question like this could only have one legitimate answer---and that answer would be, "Well, yes, I think it may very well be a mistake. I've only once asked for and didn't receive any research funds from the Leakey Foundation." Apparently the idea of making archaeological spatial pattering interpretation more secure wasn't in the Leakey Foundation's brief. Clark Howell was on the committee that year and he alluded to a fellow committee member who had "a bee in his bonnett for you" (meaning me). Unbelievable!]

Onward and ever forward. After excavating an old cv from the choking round-up of dust bunnies under my bed, I was reminded that, back in the Pliocene the L. S. B. Leakey Trust granted me a small portion of what it cost to get to Europe and back for my dissertation research. So I told the person on the other end of the internet what I had discovered. Without hesitation I was advised that it's what prolly cinched the invitation for me. So, how could I refuse? I responded in the affirmative that, indeed, I would be attending. And then I was informed that the dress was suit and tie. Thereafter, having mused at length on the prospects for a great dinner and an equally exquisite brunch the next day [think about it! Free, good wine? I'm there], I started to get the heebie-jeebies. Wanna know why?

I'm pretty sure that I've been a participant at such an event exactly once in my life. That was even before I was looking for an academic job. I was still in graduate studies. I had no money, and managed to stop eating and drinking long enough to be able to afford a cheap used jacket to go with a pair of my not so well coordinated pants. That little soirée was at the home of the same Mr. Getty, where Mrs. Getty was feting my friend Susan Antón, who'd just been offered a position in Florida [where, by the way, she didn't have to stay long---they grabbed her at NYU and she's been there ever since]. I'm sorry to say that I'm one who is easily starstruck. The Getty home is a palace. Full stop. The dinner was held in the Atrium, complete with fairy lights and a full-size skylight three stories above. Servers came and went through invisible doors in the hallways and party spaces. I had trouble keeping my jaw parallel to my uppers. So, other than the fact that I looked and felt like an Okie on a visit to the White House, it was a most enjoyable evening.

Clockwise from top left. The Getty House in Pacific Heights. Mrs. Getty and the dogs in a room she decorated. The current resident of the White House in the Getty House---Mrs. Getty on the left; Mr. Getty on the right. The table setting. The atrium. The recital hall. Who says I'm starstruck!
This time around I'm being invited to an evening affair at a country home. But I'd bet dollars to donuts that it'll be no less posh than my visit to Chez Getty. And, unless you've been asleep for the past 2 years you'll know the problem is still money. I've long since jettisoned the Okie clothes. But, unfortunately the timelessly stylish jacket and slacks I bought to wear for my first [and last] academic 'job talk' are now at least two beer bellies too small. So, I would need new clothes. To top it off, I couldn't imagine driving up in Snow White, my reliable but malmaintained '97 Geo Metro 3-door with the 1000 cc, 3-cylinder engine and stick shift transmission. The old girl probably hasn't been washed in 3 years, and the cabin looks a little like a homeless bivy, so overworked and busy am I that I never take the time to dung it out.

Snow White. My 1997 Geo Metro. Not quite visual pollution in the legal sense, but getting there. It would probably fit easily under the cab canopy standing next to it.
What to do? What to do?

Several brain storms later, and not a few glasses of fermented fruit that came from somewhere near the location of the Big Do, I had formulated a plan. I'll drive north from Surf City on the Saturday, park at the Daly City B.A.R.T. station, transfer my self and my mostly empty suitcase to a Zip car that I've reserved for a 24-hour period, and hie myself to a cheap motel mere 15 km from the destination burg. There I'll prolly take a shower, fix my do, then slip on my brand new Irish linen large herringbone, two-piece suit, purchased expressly for the occasion. Have a look.

The Man. I never was this good-looking. And I don't have to tell you that I've changed, for the worse, since I was his age. (Image courtesy of Land's End)

The close-up. How many herring do you think it takes to make a herringbone patterned suit?
[Frankly, until this past week, I didn't even know the little blighters could sew!] (Image courtesy of Land's End)

Aside from the face, I'll be deviating from the look in these Land's End dot com photos in only one other small way. Instead of the pastel purple tie, I'll be sporting my Cal Bears old boys tie!

The University of California's Berkeley campus was the first of what's now ten. For that reason, only those who attend UC Berkeley are entitled to bear the official symbols. When asked they say they're attending Cal, they call their sports teams The Bears, after the golden bear [grizzly, in fact] that roamed California in the early European era, and is portrayed prominently on the state's flag.   
With all of the superficial---corporeal---problems solved, you might think that I'm all set. Nuh-uh. I'll now need to summon up some serious chutzpah if I'm to temporarily overcome my all-encompassing, day-in-day-out problem long enough to make the best of the experience I'm to enjoy next weekend. You've heard of wallflowers? Well, if you look up wallflower in the dictionary you'll see there's a picture of me!

To make an excruciatingly long story mercifully short, due to persistent negative social rejection from the time of my earliest memories until I was about 13, my unconscious apparently 'internalized' the humiliating, shame producing bullying and social rejection that I received in my neighborhood and at school. I was persona non grata and worse. It has meant that my adult life has been spent in avoidant behaviour of one flavour or another, to a greater or lesser degree, in my dealings with other human beings. I literally fear interacting with people. I want personal relationships as much as the next person, but I'm only gonna get into one if I think I'll never receive the sorts of soul-destroying remonstrances and humiliation that, over the years, my unconscious has learned to expect.

I procrastinate endlessly in any activity that requires approaching a stranger or [even] an otherwise innocuous acquaintance. Forget approaching a country's traditional owners for permission to transgress on their patch to do some archaeology. Forget, too, proposal writing, doing the research and writing it up---I'm afraid that most anything that comes out of my head or mouth is gonna end up being ridiculed and I'll be regarded as one who doesn't know what he's talking about. My Ph.D. dragged on two years longer than it needed to, simply because I couldn't fight the inertia that infests my waking life. Having my work on Middle Palaeolithic burial derided and ignored hasn't helped much.

I don't do large gatherings of virtual strangers very well. Inevitably I feel as if I want to crawl out of my skin rather than try [and fail] to make chit-chat and gave people think I'm a nincompoop. I'm much more likely to stand by myself, with my back to the wall and a glass in my hand than I am making small [or even big] talk with the grownups [of which group I've never been one]. Teaching was torture for me, with every second spent wondering if what I just said or am going to say will cause any of my students to think ill of me or spur their derision. When one's mind is occupied with an inner conversation of that sort, you can imagine that it's only a matter of time before one does or says something that provokes just those responses that one fears the most. And, don't get me started on my numerous, failed, relationships with women.

I presume you can therefore see my problem in the time leading up to the Leakey Foundation soirée? It's a week away and already I'm starting to have second, third and fourth thoughts about the whole idea. I'm incapable of schmoozing. To make matters even worse, there'll undoubtedly be innumerable scholars in attendance who will have been familiar with my work on the Middle Palaeolithic. Who wouldn't want to avoid them? My guess is lots of people. But me? You betcha!

So, wish me luck. At least with the cool new clothes I'll have looked a good fight! And as long as I tell everyone that I'm driving the shiny new Civic Zip car because my Testarrosa's in for service, I won't feel like a total rube. ;-)

I'll be doing my very best to be cool, suave, and debonair. I've even had business cards made so that I look official. Whaddayathink?

My business card. Not to scale.
If this was TMI [too much information] feel free to forget it as soon as you'd like.


SA announces new posts on the Subversive Archaeologist's facebook page (mirrored on Rob Gargett's news feed), on Robert H. Gargett's page, Rob Gargett's twitter account, and his Google+ page. A few of you have already signed up to receive email when I post. Others have subscribed to the blog's RSS feeds. You can also become a 'member' of the blog through Google Friend Connect. Thank you for your continued patronage. You're the reason I do this.


  1. Congrats on your invite. Great post. Been there, done that. Hang in there and do your best for all the socially challenged of the world. What's the worst that could happen?

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Robert. I'm sure it'll be f.u.n. and interesting.

  3. Rob loved your post largely because it resonated with me.

    Of course if this had been in Australia at the RSPacS, in the 1980s, they would have invited all those you have discussed in the subversive archaeologist and plied you all with booze and waited for the fights to start...

    That being said Jim and Rhy are long gone and this seems more civilised. Remember the suit protects you(they are designed to do this my jacket has protected me in all sorts of social occasions) and enjoy.

  4. Thanks, Iain. I did several u-turns before I decided to talk about my mental health on line. It seems that everywhere I look on the web these days, there's an add or an evocation about the devastating effects of bullying. The sooner we rid society of that kind of behavior, the happier everyone will be. rug


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