My Tribe

This is what a writing life looks like.

Last night, I was up until 4:30 a.m., finishing what will probably be a next-to-final round of revisions to the Secret Project. The final round of revisions will probably take place as soon as I get back from Wiscon. I slept for three hours, then got up and packed.

Then I got on a plane, flew to Milwaukee, and then to Madison. And here I am, at Wiscon. By baggage claim, I ran into one of my roommates, Catherynne Valente. My other roommate, Seanan McGuire, will arrive tomorrow.

After we had checked in and brought our bags up to the room, with a larger group of people because that’s what happens in the Wiscon lobby, people just grab you and then you end up being part of a group, I took some time to go out by myself, walk along the main street that leads to the capitol building, remember how much I like Madison. And get a bowl of spicy noodles, which I’m eating as I write this.

Here, by the way, is a picture of Traveling Dora. Looking tired but sensible, as though she could handle a train through Siberia or elephants in Indonesia. With the gray shawl that kept her warm on the cold, cold planes.

In the airports and on the planes, I finished reading the stories I need to critique in the writing workshop tomorrow. I still have to write up my comments for the workshop itself. Conventions are fun, but when you’re a writer, they’re also work. So tonight I’ll be staying in, writing up my comments, doing the work I’m supposed to do.

And then I’ll be spending tomorrow with my tribe, the tribe of writers and editors and publishers and illustrators. The people who make stories happen. I think of it as a very special tribe. These are the people who will laugh when I post a picture of Cthulhu Pikachu.

Or get this joke with peer reviews, which I will include at the end of this post for those of you who don’t like to click links. This one is for the academics, and there’s one academic I’d like to share it with in particular, because I know it would make him laugh. If you read this, you know who you are, professor.

Being here makes me think about what I want in my life, now. Love and friendship, first. There are so many people I lost touch with because I was focused on the work. It always came first. But I’ve missed my tribe, my people. It’s time to start reconnecting. Second, writing and creative work. I’m already working on that, already writing stories, essays, poems. But there are so many projects I have planned, so many I want to undertake. And finally, a place where I can make all of these things happen, where there is beauty and comfort and peace. Some of these things might take me a while to find, but I’ll get there. I have – not always confidence, but a kind of faith.

All right, here’s the joke. Go ahead, laugh at me for thinking this is one of the funniest things I have ever read. Especially the peer reviews.

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A (by Dr. L): There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was “one”: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the “Great Man” school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between “light” and “darkness,” and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.

– Response by peer reviewers

Dear Dr. L,

We regret that we cannot accept your historian joke in its present form . . . . However, a panel of anonymous reviewers (well, anonymous to YOU, anyway) have reviewed it and made dozens of mutually contradictory suggestions for its . . . improvement. Please consider them carefully, except for the ones made by a man we all consider to be a dangerous crackpot but who is the only one who actually returns comments in a timely fashion.

1. This joke is unnecessarily narrow. Why not consider other sources of light? The sun lights department offices; so too do lights that aren’t bulbs (e.g. fluorescents). These are rarely “changed” and never by historians. Consider moving beyond your internalist approach.

2. The joke is funny, but fails to demonstrate familiarity with the most important works on the topic. I would go so far as to say that Leeson’s omission is either an unprofessional snub, or reveals troubling lacunae in his basic knowledge of the field. The works in question are Brown (1988), Brown (1992), Brown (1994a), Brown (1994b), Brown and Smith (1999), Brown (2001), Brown et al. (2003), and Brown (2006).

3. Inestimably excellent and scarcely in need of revision. I have only two minor suggestions: instead of a joke, make it a haiku, and instead of light bulbs, make the subject daffodils.

4. This is a promising start, but the joke fails to address important aspects of the topic, like (a) the standard Whig answer of “one,” current through the 1950s; (b) the rejection of this “Great Man” approach by the subsequent generation of social historians; (c) the approach favored by women’s historians; (d) postmodernism’s critique of the light bulb as discursive object which obscured the contributions of subaltern actors, and (e) the neoconservative reaction to the above. When these are included, the joke should work, but it’s unacceptable in its present form.

5. I cannot find any serious fault with this joke. Leeson is fully qualified to make it, and has done so carefully and thoroughly. The joke is funny and of comparable quality to jokes found in peer journals. I score it 3/10 and recommend rejection.

I know, I’m a nerd.  But I sat there in the airport, laughing and laughing.

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6 Responses to My Tribe

  1. Sofia says:

    Omg “Brown (1988), Brown (1992), Brown (1994a), Brown (1994b), Brown and Smith (1999), Brown (2001), Brown et al. (2003), and Brown (2006)”– too funny!

  2. Yeah, that one cracked me up too. 🙂

  3. James says:

    Just spent thirty+ hours in one go to finish revisions on a novel yesterday so I can get up early tomorrow for Phoenix Comicon, where I’m on a bazillion panels – and instead of sleeping, I’m reading ‘My Tribe’ by Dora Goss. 😉

    Hug Cat for me – love that babe. I’ll hug Scalzi or someone for you in ten hours or so.

    Have a good weekend, dear Dora.

  4. Grey Walker says:

    Aaahhhhh, academia. I’m feeling all nostalgic, now.

  5. Alexa Duncan says:

    I think my favorite peer review is #4.

  6. James, I hugged Cat for you. 🙂

    Yeah, I thought this one was particularly funny. Basically because it was so darn accurate!

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