I was talking with a friend at work about rites of passage last week. I was explaining how rites of passage are used to manage the transition between two different social states – for example, the rituals of a wedding mark the transition between the unmarried and married states.
Moving between social states is kind of like that physics thought experiment about the train that is going forward and then changes to going backward – at some point between the two it must have been stationary. At some point between social states, you aren’t in either – you have no clear status, role, position. A good example of this is flying: between being-in-Australia and being-in-Fiji, you aren’t in any country at all. There are rituals involved in this status transition: check-in, customs and immigration, and the journey itself all have the attributes of ritual.
There are rituals on either side of the plane journey, managing the mini-transitions between being-in-Australia and being-in-no-mans-land, and then being-in-no-mans-land to being-in-Fiji. Between each airport carpark, you are in what’s called the ‘liminal’ stage of your rite of passage – the part where you are inbetween states. Other liminal stages include engagements, pregnancies, that part between where you’re offered a job and when you sign the contract, etc.
The thing about liminal states is that they are dangerous. Plane trips, pregnancies and waiting-for-the-contract are all states where Things Can Go Wrong. Liminality is sometimes physically dangerous, but it’s almost always socially and emotionally dangerous – sometimes to you, sometimes to others, sometimes to society as a whole. You are not fully and safely categorised, not contained by social definitions and expectations. You are outside your society’s standard way of being in the world, and this is a risky place to be.
(And finally I get to the point…)
In the course of the conversation with my friend, I explained that I was in a liminal stage of my life at the moment, the transition from student life to the working world, from Not Quite Adult to Proper Grown-Up. I hadn’t realised this explicitly before, but it’s turned into a helpful insight. I’m struggling with this transition. My working and financial life is still that of a student – several part time jobs that don’t add up to quite enough to live off. My mind and desires are being tugged towards the future, as they have been for the last few years – thoughts of houses, babies, long-term health, trips to take before having babies, financial security and how to achieve it. I have spent the last few years making Plans. But I can’t yet implement them, because without a Proper Job, I’m not a Proper Grown-Up.
This existential dilemma, combined with the fact that you can’t search Seek.com.au for ‘anthropologist’ and expect to find much, combined with a severe lack of money, is adding up to considerable chaos inside my head. I have a Plan for reaching my long term goal of working in maternal health as an anthropologist, but that plan doesn’t account for my other goals, ie Pay The Bills. Or should I leave that for later and go for the Real Job? (Advantages: $$$, legitimate claims to adulthood, ability to rent a non-leaky house; Disadvantages: incredibly hard to find one that I actually have the skills for and won’t suck at (also: working all day)). It’s quite a conundrum, and has been claiming most of my brain power for the last few months. This is one of those times when I kind of wish I believed in The Secret, instead of thinking it’s illogical, materialistic, badly written magical-thinking crap.
But at least I can now tuck my situation into a nice conceptual box, making it a slightly less worrying situation to be in. And I’m finally writing again. Bright Side, I has found it.