#ReadUrbanAndPlanningWomen 2014, riffing on #ReadWomen2014

I’m not sure who came up with it, but #ReadWomen2014 is the idea that readers in 2014 should consciously dedicate some of their time to reading the ideas put down by women. Woo! As I note, you are not educated until you get off your fanny and start to see the world from perspectives other than your own.

So I’ve decided to decided to spend a goodly portion of this year reading and rereading the works that have come to us from female planning scholars. I’m going to try to get as many of women of color as I can, but both planning and urban studies scholars and the media that covers them don’t support and promote the work of women or people of color the way we should.

(If you are a white male urban scholar, your every dribble will be celebrated with glitter and star shine, particularly if you have restated something that a black or female scholar wrote 15 years ago and that everybody ignored, because, well.) (Did I say that out loud? I wouldn’t want anybody to second-guess how they got where they are, except I am mean and its payback for the several hundred of times I have been told that I “only won X” or “got X” “because I am a woman.”) Enjoy!!

“I tried to write faster, but it wasn’t any fun for me” Donna Tartt on writing

I’m less of a worshipful Donna Tartt fan than many, but I am willing to grant that she’s in the 97th percentile in terms of quality, which means way the hell better than me on her worst day. She produces a book every decade. It’s her speed. Here is talking about that with Charlie Rose. Now, there’s entirely too much Charlie Rose and not enough Donna Tartt, but she’s still very wise and very wonderful.

Like Tartt, I have to be alone to work, it’s that simple. Maybe you can only write if you have somebody willing to read your stuff. Figuring out what makes the process work for you is a lifelong challenge, but it’s important if you want to get work done.

Do What You Love in work and Utopianism in planning

Miya Tokumitsu has an essay up over at Slate, which seems to have been adapted from Jacobin, about how people need to shut it about “Doing what you love” because that devalues the real nature of very difficult, largely manual, labor. My students have been discussing this idea on Fboo, and rightly noting that this author has hit upon a very important point about the connection between affluence, choice, and privilege in occupations. I dissented on a couple points.

First of all, it is undoubtedly true that do what you love is facile advice, particularly if you don’t think for yourself, and thinking for yourself is undervalued. My problem is a supposition that the writer makes, which I do not think is at all true, that the DWYL advice somehow translates to devaluing “real work.” I am very nervous about the idea that something as fluffy as DWYL devalues work that was paid scarcely minimum wage, or unpaid entirely when we are taking about caregiving work, long before Steve Jobs said ANYTHING about doing what you love. That is, please learn to recognize the difference between a cause and a symptom: the poor treatment of laborers, particularly in low status professions, happened long, long before we had creative class hipster types chatting on about fulfilling work and the people who hate them because they annoy.

Moreover, I think I have a unique perspective on the value of the “DWYL” advice because I was raised in an environment where people *never* said that. I wasn’t raised to enjoy work. I was raised to shut up and obey authority. I was raised to expect work to be a miserable grind. You weren’t supposed to be happy at work. You worked long, miserable hours only to have to come home to say to your kids “No, you can’t have that because we can’t afford that” and watch as teachers and other kids treat your kid like crap because you’ve outfitted them in mismatched stained clothing from Goodwill. This was the life my mother told me to expect for myself. The big, shining dream she had? I could maybe go to college and at best be an elementary school teacher. That was it. That was her entire dream for my life; it was the shiniest shiney thing she could imagine. So what if I hated kids and was terribly unsocial and could barely speak? I would have to deal with that misery because being a low-paid elementary school teacher was the most lavish life she could envision. Because those folks had health care and could buy their kids new shoes when they needed them. While town kids (like my cousins) had after school activities, poor farm kids like me were doing shitty, often soul-destroying work some of us hated (and some of us loved) on farms that were going bankrupt slowly in the 1980s.

Now, there is a great deal right with being an elementary school teacher if it is, like it is for my friend Jeff, what you want to do. It is not what I was born to do. I hated elementary school children even when I, myself, was in elementary school. My inside died every single time my mother prattled on about how awesome it would be to be a teacher. My family *deplored and attacked* any and all dreams I had that weren’t elementary school teaching. I wanted to be a writer. OMG. It was my mother’s mission in life to attack that dream. Shame on me for wanting to write. Being a writer meant I would expect her to pay my way my entire life, sit around like a lazy worthless slob, and that was not going to happen, nosireebob. “Writing is a lazy man’s profession” my mother would say, shooting me daggers. And I learned. I learned never to mention that dream around them.

Because you can not kill desire, I achieved that dream anyway, in a manner that allowed me to both pay my own rent and that allowed me to read and write for a living and NOT spend my time wiping noses and asses in an elementary school. I made my life slipping between and among the constraints that my beginning in life set up for me (ok, probably not going to rule a country, though I think I’d be good at that and I’d probably enjoy it; also nix on the NBA star/ballerina dream). But there were other things I did love and could find a way to pay my rent. I would have been a marvelous classicist, but the job market there was scary, and so I picked something else that also allowed me to optimize on my strengths and what was out there in the world as a feasible option the things allow me to do the things I love to do (write, read. Talk about things I’m writing and reading. etc).

By not accepting what was “realistic” for me, I exceeded my predicted lifetime income, not just by a little. A lot. And I love going to work. Yes, there are richer people than me monetarily, but I do not want what I haven’t got.

You will find, I think, that there is, indeed, a great deal of honor among people who do jobs that they hate, but they often do those jobs they hate because of love. They do them to survive and to try to give their kids or their siblings or a chance at something better. That’s still doing what you love; it’s just not related to the job. It’s service and sacrifice for what you love. Encouraging people to find what they love hardly devalues the honor and sacrifice of people who do work they don’t love for people they do love.

And there are also people who love to work with their hands and come home every day smelling like sweat and manure and who enjoy what they do, too.

I am not satisfied the idea that *only* creative types or Steve Jobs types or privileged people can have a worthy vocation. Figuring out what matters to you–what you love, iow, strikes me as the most important thing anybody of any socio-economic class can do over the course of the life they are dealt. Perhaps the nature of the work matters to you less than the people you work with; perhaps context matters more than the job. Perhaps the fact you can work from 6 until 3 so that you can be there when your kids are out of school defines what what you love. Doing what you love falls under all those choices, and I do not think that class privilege robs you of any and all of those choices. Lack of privilege may constrain those choices by a lot more than you want them constrained, but it shouldn’t rob you from thinking about what would make you happier.

Just like utopian plans are often silly and unworkable, they can sometimes help to shine the light on the things that we really want. I refuse to problematize desire even though desires are not uniformly realized.

Beer with the scribes

The New Republic has a piece up about a recent discovery about the origins of the ark myth in Genesis. There is some irritating opining going on, but the story about the relationship between an Assyrinologist and the long-ago writers of the cuneiform tablets in his care is so delightful I had to share:

Finkel has handled so many of these tablets that he’s learned to recognize individual scribes:
Finkel has been doing this for so long, and “met” so many of the same scribes over and over again, that he gets a sense of them as people. The Babylonian schools were filled with the same mix of troublemakers, bored kids and swots as modern ones, he says, which you can tell from the recovered tablets from children learning to read and write. And when you read a really learned, intelligent, experienced scribe, “you can really see a brain there, a brain that’s clever and can see meaning. They were very sharp.”

I ask him if he has any favourites, if any of the writers become almost friends. “You get cleverness and intellect, but what you don’t get, usually, is personal stuff,” he says. “You don’t get private writing, you don’t get spontaneous love poetry. So one is filled with admiration for these minds, and sometimes you wish you could bloody well talk to this guy so he could explain what he means, but not a feeling that you’d like to go for a pint with him or something.”

Occasionally, though, he finds that a scribe has missed a line in a long, copied document, and they’ve tried to squeeze it in in the margin, with an asterisk to mark the spot: “The device is familiar, that’s like us. And it’s that sense of the guy going ‘oh s—’ – that’s the moment you think you might like to buy this guy a pint and calm him down.”

Go read the whole thing.

The Oatmeal gives better advice to PhD students than I do

Ok, so The Oatmeal is brilliant, and quite a bit about what you need to know about being a scholar is very similar to everything he says about being a creative in general:

a) Word to the part about open access internet journals and respectability

b) Word, particularly, about learning to manage when and how you get comments on your ideas.

Go read it, and stay out of the tornado.

Is Paris a global city?

I’m back to teaching, and yesterday in my undergraduate class on the city, I ask my young urbanists the question: What are the five most important cities in the world? We had five groups of nine students; all five groups listed New York; only one listed Bejing or New Delhi. We’re a US school, so we are going to have some bias towards western cities, but given the importance of New York in global financial capital, that choice is likely fair. Other important cities, according to intuition, are Hong Kong, London, and Tokyo.

I was surprised by Paris on one list, and I didn’t get time to follow up on their reasoning in class. What do you think? I’m not sure Paris is really important anymore. I certainly think it was culturally important, and it’s still a lovely city even today, but it doesn’t strike me as globally influential in the way that London is.

George Washington and the unfinished room

Last night, USC kicked off its first lecture in a series of lectures to promote its partnership to create the Fred W. Smith Library at Mount Vernon about President Washington. It was a delightful evening; Kevin Starr gave the first lecture, and while he admitted he is not a colonial specialist, he has such a rich, deep baritone that he could just read anything to me and I would be happy to listen. However, at one point during the conversation, one historian noted that Washington started to build an addition to Mount Vernon at the beginning of the war. He didn’t finish it for 10 years.

I feel somewhat less guilty about how long it’s taking me to renovate my bathroom.

(Ok, well, yes, he led a revolution, helped start a country, and had no power tools, but I’m kind of busy, too.)