Blind Review

Last night when I got home from practice, I ate a cup of pot noodles and two (big) bowls of ice cream and then spent more or less the next four hours straight watching the entire first season of Awkward, MTV's new sitcom about high schooler Jenna Hamilton's struggles to be somebody other than "That Girl" whom everyone thinks tried to kill herself.   How apropos.

No, I don't want to kill myself (not like last week), but I do know why I ate all that ice cream and stayed up all night watching television (actually, huluplus on my iPad): I am still feeling very, very, very angry about the reviews that I got back on the article that I sent out, the gist of which seem to be (as well as I can remember from reading them last week, I don't really want to revisit them now), "Your material is great, but your presentation sucks." (And, no, they did not engage as such with the material or my scholarship, only the presentation.)  Even the editor who encouraged me to send the piece in seems to have had second thoughts.  "This would be better if you wrote it completely differently."  I want to scream.

As does Jenna when, coming home from summer camp just before the beginning of her sophomore year, she gets a similar letter from "A Friend."  It opens: "Jenna, as you are now, you could disappear and no one would notice. Below is a list of suggestions you should take into serious consideration. A Friend. Number one: stop being such a pussy.”  The helpful comments continue: "Pull your head out of your ass and stand out."  "You have to be cruel to be kind."  (There are more, but I can't find them quoted on her blog.)  Jenna spends the next twelve episodes (or four months, depending on how you count) trying to figure out who wrote the letter, but (and here's the part that really stings) she still believes that what it said was right.  Even when she thinks that Sadie, her worst enemy, might have been the sender, she still describes the letter as a "carevention": "Whoever wrote the letter didn’t pull any punches. It was the truth and the truth hurt."

As they say, publish or perish.  When my husband looked at the reviews last week, he just said, "F*ck 'em.  Just publish it anyway."  But I can't, not unless I just post it myself here.  Like Jenna in high school, I can't be popular unless the other kids like me.  And, no, it does not help to be told that the reviewers were very distinguished and experienced scholars who were reading with the best of intentions anymore than it helps Jenna to know that the "carevention" was written by "A Friend."  It still hurts.  A lot.  Unlike Jenna, however, I'm not convinced that it's the truth, at least not the whole truth about my article.

I am even less convinced that such "blind reviews" make us better scholars, anymore than I am convinced that Jenna actually needed A Friend's advice in order to be a better person.  She seems pretty amazing to me already, especially since she does not, in fact, try to kill herself after getting such a hurtful letter, just post on her blog ("Sometimes being a teenager makes you want to die") and try to take a few aspirin (she chokes, falls, drops the bottle, slips on the edge of the bath, and breaks her arm, thus spending the first several weeks of her sophomore year in a preposterous, all-too-impossible-to-ignore cast with everyone thinking she was suicidal).  Another part of me is thinking about how dealing with such comments is like getting on strip at a competition and that I can do this if I just take it one touch at a time.  But not yet, not right now.

Right now I'm just sitting here trying to enjoy the fact that I am not actually all that upset with myself for the binge (really, only a mini-binge, if you think about it) because I can see what emotions it was trying to help me avoid.  The problem is, I don't know how else to make them go away.

Sometimes being an author makes you want to die.


  1. I think academics, for all their pretensions, still like being told very clearly what to think (I'm assuming that your article was similar to the work you've presented in the last six or nine months?). Maybe it's because they're used to chiding freshmen for not putting the thesis in the last sentence of the first paragraph. Maybe it's because being told exactly what to think makes it easier to form an opinion about what they're reading (and reject it if that opinion doesn't align with their other opinions). People are only willing to struggle through a certain amount of analysis, before they become annoyed and put the work down.

    I think this means you have to choose between leading your audience by the hand partway through the work. Or finding another kind of audience that is willing to follow you on their own. I think if you do choose to keep trying for an academic audience, giving them the analysis they want (that is, telling them what you want them to think) will at least let you know that your ideas aren't being misunderstood.


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