On Tribes

“A ghra mo chroi, I long to see the boys of the old brigade.”

-the Wolfe Tones

“You’d think after everything that went down, Frankie woulda cut Tommy loose right then. If that’s what you think, you’re not from Jersey.”

– Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, Jersey Boys (2014)

“We’re a group. We’re a team. From the President and Leo on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories sweeter because we did them together… You’re my guys and I’m yours… and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

-Toby Ziegler, The West Wing


This is the problem with being Scotch-Irish of Appalachian-Southern extraction. By blood and history and heritage, you tend toward the clannish, the tribal, the bunker mentality of standing back to back and shoulder to shoulder with your own kind and to hell with everybody else. It’s the sort of thing that produces feuds and brotherhood and ancient hatreds and eternal loyalty.  The problem comes when you are an inherently and instinctively tribal person who has no tribe.

There are things I’m probably well-positioned to claim but have absolutely no desire to do so – my current job, my undergraduate institution, huge whopping chunks of my home state. There are things I could once claim but would be kind of tenuous in doing so now – mostly involving Apple or DC. There are things I can try to claim but feel like a bit of a fraud in doing so – like Cal, or huge chunks of Vanderbilt. But if you want affiliations based on my own experience and merit, without having to marry into them or borrow them through geography, that I’m still willing and able to identify with? It boils down to that one peculiar band of brothers from over a decade ago when we were lords of the Earth and a conquering army of vengeance. And to be honest, I’ve probably invested too much time over the last decade into trying to put together all the necessary chemicals and strike them with a bolt of lightning to produce the same building blocks of life.

There’s a scene in the pilot of the BBC drama The Hour, after Freddie’s raged out at Bel about being passed over for the opportunity to anchor her new program and refusing to get involved, and the new staff is leaving for cocktails at Lime Grove, and she drops a note on his desk on her way out – which reads, simply, “Come with us”. And it reminds me of a random date in January 1995, couldn’t say exactly when, but there was some sort of outing being planned among the grad students of the department. I found out about it when someone buttonholed me in the break room to let me know it was happening and would I go? But the telling thing was twenty minutes later, I was looking for a different person for God knows what, and they weren’t at their desk, but there was a to-do list on that desk that included “call [me] about [whatever the thing was].”  I don’t remember the details at all – the only thing I remember, twenty years on, is that not only did they want me there, they were going out of their way to make sure I knew.

wanted to belong – and they wanted me to belong too. And I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of this at the time, or else I might have made better choices in those years. And maybe I could be healthier now if I made better choices about tying my well-being to my tribal affiliation. But unwiring that particular brain-configuration is going to be a long haul and a heavy lift and require a degree of dedication and patience that I’m genuinely not sure I’m capable of any more.

One Reply to “On Tribes”

  1. I started to try and write something meaningful and moving and somewhat sentimental and nostalgic here and just couldn’t (and that’s nothing to do with you, just not where I am right now). So I’ll just say this: that one particular band still means something to some of us, and I’m thankful daily that I was part of it and so were you and so were some other people who truly matter still in our respective worlds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.