Tribes and Homes

7 April 2002

It's funny, the timing on these things. I just got back, and frankly I've been a homesick mess all week. I've been over the edge into tears at the drop of a hat, all over people and all by myself, too. I have to get used to this again. I won't be like this all year, I promise. But I think this was the worst of our planned visits home, because in late October, for World Fantasy Con, we can maybe start to plan again. Like we did last October.

I've already got some plans. I've got a plan to go to Dayton's-I-mean-Marshall-Field's Eighth Floor Auditorium in December of '03 with C.J. I mean it. I'll do it, too. Scott and I swore we'd go together to the first episode of Star Wars when it came out. I was twelve, almost thirteen. Eight years later, we actually did it. So when I make a long-term plan, it's a pretty good bet.

But that's a digression. The timing, the funny thing, is with Blueberry Hill. (Ma: all these links are safe if you feel like following them, but not essential.) She wrote earlier in the week about The Tribe, and I said, oh, yes. Oh yes, that's me, I do that. I have those. She says, "It means you're among your own people in some inexplicably meaningful way even if you don't know them or understand them or like them." Yes. Yesyesyes.

I think that people can be subdivided pretty much infinitely, but the divisions I'm thinking of now are those who have Tribes, and then within that group, those who recognize them at the time. Most of us have some kind of Tribe. People from our hometown, people from our undergrad, people we've known forever, people who like one particular thing with a crazy passion, people who do one particular thing whether they like it or not, people who believe what we believe in some shape or another. Our people.

We've spent the last century breaking down some of the barriers between people -- between men and women, between ethnic and "racial" categories, between socioeconomic classes as much as we can. And for some people, that means that it's hard to say "my people" about anybody. It's hard to make that meaningful. They associate it with snobbery, or racism, or jingoism of various sorts. But all of the bad ways of figuring out who's part of Your Group don't negate the good ones. They don't get rid of the flash of identification.

It's not the same as when you discover that you do the same individual wacky (or non-wacky) thing as someone else. It's not the same as that kind of identification. It's shallower and deeper all at once. As Jessie said, you don't even have to like people to recognize this kind of kinship with them. It's just there.

I have some very dear friends who are not in any way part of one of my "Tribes." It's a good thing, too, because out here, I feel cut off and Tribeless. Professional interests are not the same thing. Ties of friendship are not the same thing. We have this household, right here, and we have Amber. And that's pretty much it. And the thing is, Jessie knows what that's like, too, and wrote about it this week. For those of you who didn't follow the link, I'm going to quote:

"Probably there's no way for me to tell you how glad I am to be back home. To run into relatives on the street; to gossip at the yoga studio; to go to idiotic karaoke with a bunch of twenty-three-year-olds on Saturday and a vintage-port-and-stilton party, featuring a parent of a teenager and a landlord probably a generation older, on Thursday; to get on my bike and roll down the hill to one friend's office, walk a video back to the store (ten minutes round trip), stop to gossip with another friend in a nearby cubicle, take the T downtown to shop for shoes and then waste an hour in a coffeehouse; these things make me feel safe.

"Does that sound strange? It's the best word I can think of. There were good things about California, and the place is crawling with journallers I want to meet, and the weather was better and I miss my friends there, all of that is true. But I spent four profoundly isolated years among people who usually had no idea what I was talking about."

Well. Yes. It's even worse than being lonely in a crowd, to have the realization that you know exactly three people in the same area code who may have any idea what you're talking about, on something basic. Something that will get lost in the translation and probably isn't worth translating anyway. When I was home, I could let my references run free. I didn't have to translate. I could just say "plaid shirt from Fleet Farm," and my cousin would wrinkle her nose, ewwwww, not cock her head and ask, "What's Fleet Farm?"

For the people who are Minnesotans who never left home, this is going to be baffling: "You miss Fleet Farm?" No. I don't miss Fleet Farm. I could never set foot in a Fleet Farm again, and I would be quite all right. But that's not the point. Fleet Farm is the least important thing in the world until someone doesn't know what it is.

The point is that while all of my specifics are different, every single one except the coffeehouse, I know exactly what Jessie means. For a week, I had all that, I had that safety again, I had that warmth, I had that home. Is it any wonder that I'm a bit of a mess, trying to deal with leaving it again?

The thing is, I feel like most of the people I'm talking to don't understand home or Tribe. They're not conscious of those things as those things. It's like -- well, meeting Aaron's roommate, Jim. It was all right there, it was safe, not just because Aaron was there and then C.J., and if you can tell me something safer than being with both Aaron and Ceej, including but not limited to being under Cheyenne Mountain, I would like to know. It was also safe safe, meeting this Jim guy, speaking a handful of words to him, because he was, well, of the Tribe. Not just that he was a Gustie, but that was a lot of it. But if he'd been from St. Olaf or Macalester or somewhere, he probably still would have been of the Tribe.

If we hadn't just gotten back from home, we probably would have gone to an overpriced, uninteresting lecture with the Bay Area Gustie alums Friday night, just so that I could be with some of the Tribe, even extended Tribe.

When I went to Davis, I had an officemate who sounded just like Scott Heath, and I used to sit with my back to him (because he looked as utterly unlike him as two Caucasian males of about the same age can) and tune out the actual words he was saying to someone else, just so that I could feel a little bit like I was at home. Sometimes I wish we got the CBC, not just for its absence of Bob Costas, but because Canadian accents, as I've said before, sound remarkably like the ones at home, and some days I would kill to hear someone estimate something at "aboot five hundred."

We watched the Gophers win their hockey game last night, just because.

See, and I do that, I come up with extended examples, because fiction writers are terrible at definitions but pretty good at incidents. And I know that for some people, those things that I just said are adding up to, "M'ris likes to be around other Gusties." Or "other people from Minnesota." Or something. But no, no, that's not it, that's not all of it, I mean. That's not the meat of it.

I think that this is one thing religious denominations were good for, for a little bit, in the early days of high geographic mobility. You could get transferred to Wyoming or Florida or wherever, but if you were Dutch Reform, you could go to the nearest Dutch Reform church and find Tribe. If you were ALC, you could go to the nearest ALC. Bingo, Tribe. I think that's thinned out a bit. Most Lutherans I meet out here have no desire to have red Jello with bananas in it at a potluck, and only a subset of the older ones say things like, "I know most of us don't get back to Minnesota as often as we'd like," even when they've never lived in Minnesota, not for a single day. Tribe is not the only thing churches are for, not even the primary thing for most people, and so it's shifted away from that. And there are good and bad aspects to that, too.

Anyway. I do feel like I'm talking around most people with this. Some of them seem to be deliberately dealing with only the most mass-market of things in their lives and then acting surprised when it all looks the same. Some of them are just not particularly strongly identified with any of their "home" cultures. And I don't know what's with the rest of them.

Tonight we're going out with Amber for her birthday, if she doesn't get called to work. And if I feel like it, I'll talk about getting pickled herring on the salad bar, and she'll know how that is. Most likely I won't, though. Most likely we'll talk about movies and books and people we know and families and everything else under the sun. But it'll still be good in a way that I'm not sure how to describe if you haven't gotten it by now.

Okay, once more, because it involves Amber. This one is a bit more specific, more of a friend-story than a Tribe-story, but it's borderline. The thing that got me the most at Ed and Jen's wedding was Em. She said at one of the parties that she'd taken a nap that afternoon while Amber and Aaron sat in the hotel room and talked, and she was happier than she'd been in ages, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the voices of the people she loved the most. That's how she put it, and I believe it. She was safe. She was loved. She was...home, in a little hotel room in Madison, where she's never lived before or since, she was home.

I'm sorry. I can't help but want to go home.

So. On a happier note, it's not only Amber's birthday, it's Erica's. Amber is a flight attendant, so she may be doing on-call flight attendant things. I hope not, though, because that doesn't sound like birthday fun. I'll probably make the dessert I was going to make tomorrow today, and then Amber can choose whether she wants dessert in or out for her birthday.

I like birthdays.

My favorite quote from yesterday's paper: "'This is the first time I've seen a demonstration like this. It's crazy,' said Rick Wu, a Chinese medical researcher from Memphis, Tenn., who watched the verbal jousting from a nearby street corner. 'We don't have things like this in Memphis or in China.'" Aww yeah.

I've discovered that I'm at around 40,000 words on the Not The Moose Book, which is actually more than I thought. I feel like I've been picking away at it all these months, all in tiny little bits and distracted by short stories. Evidently that many tiny little bits add up to 40,000 words. (This is also hard to immediately tell because I have multiple files, one for each of three sections, so I can't just do a word count, I have to -- gasp -- add. Which sounds lazy, but it is more trouble to pull up three different files, get word counts, and add, so I just don't do it as often.) I'm not sure how many words this thing is going to be, but my guess is that I'm definitely not more than a third done, perhaps not more than a quarter. I hope more than a fifth, but, well, we'll have to see. It's going to be a long book. It's worth it, though. I'm in that "sit down and rattle off several thousand words" stage with it now, which is good and comforting and all that. A happy thing.

Yesterday I read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. I would recommend it to other writers, definitely. I don't know that I so much enjoyed it as that I appreciated what she was doing with it. The characterization was deft but I was (now I'll bet David can guess this one) glad it wasn't any longer than it was, for the structure Woolf had chosen. I also read James Gunn's The End of Dreams, only to discover that only one out of the three stories was new to me, so I went on to Sheckley's Untouched by Human Hands, which was mostly new to me but still left me time to reread Lloyd Alexander's The Kestrel. Good stuff, good stuff. Even better than Westmark. I was just fascinated by these books when I was a kid, but that was in the stage when my favorite game was "political refugees fleeing an oppressive government," so I suppose it's not too surprising.

I'm reading a lot of short books lately. The key question now is what balances the multitudes of old SF and space opera volumes. I have some stuff borrowed from David that will do part of the trick -- I'm going to read Doris Lessing's A Small Personal Voice next, and that's fairly firmly un-Gunn. But I'll be heading to the library later in the week, and I'm a bit at loose ends trying to figure out what I'm lacking. The library has no more Finnish research materials for me, and I'm trying to stay away from short stories (although I might finish "Another Hollywood Miracle" today just because I can and it won't take long), so I don't want specific short story research materials. Some general nonfiction, probably, and whatever I can find otherwise. I have a pretty long library list. Three pages, but the third page isn't full and stuff has been crossed off the other pages. If I had a Palm Pilot, I'd probably keep library lists on that and then easily move stuff over when I discovered the library didn't have it and I'd have to look for it at used bookstores. But I don't want a Palm Pilot. I kind of like the physical crossing off and rewriting.

I like the feel of paper under my hand, too, but I still write most of my books on the computer now. So maybe some day I'll get a Palm Pilot and use it. For now, a folder is just fine.

So. I'm going to talk to Timprov and try a new church with Mark and eat BLTs and read the paper and talk to my folks and write the intro to WIHA (because I finally know how it goes!) and work on the NTMB and mend my jacket and read Lessing and maybe go out with Amber and maybe watch the Simpsons or maybe some baseball, in my not-watching sort of watching way. Have a good day. Do stuff, even if it isn't your stuff. It'll work out. Really.

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