The Planning Commissioner’s Guide: One thing to read for somebody who has no background in planning

Continuing my series of questions answered, I got this question from one of my students: what is a good thing to read for somebody who has no background in planning at all?

I very much like Dale, Herman and McBride from the Planner’s Press, The Planning Commissioners Guide. Now I have always wondered about whether that title should have an apostrophe, but smart people publish these things and mine is not to wonder why.

Planning theory questions answered: some indigenous planning readings?

I had some questions from my planning theory class last fall that I just didn’t get answered in class, so I thought I would answer them here in the interests of trying to be useful. One question was:

Recommendations for indigenous justice in planning and policy?

Some great work is happening here among current grad students who haven’t published as much yet, but: 

Planning Theory & Practice published a really nice symposium: 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14649357.2017.1380961

I love Ryan Walker’s work and they have what looks like a great collected volume I haven’t gotten to reading just yet (but will):

https://www.cip-icu.ca/Files/Awards/Planning-Excellence/Reclaining-Indigenous-Planning.aspx

Various planning (theory) questions answered–where to begin with Marx in urban and planning theory?

I spent the last day of planning theory answering questions. Some I didn’t get to, and they were good questions, so I thought I would answer them here.

How to break into the Marxist literature? 

You could do waaaaay worse than start with David Harvey’s readalong on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBazR59SZXkv

My favorite of David Harvey’s books: The Condition of Postmodernity and the History of Neoliberalism 

You really want to read Karl Polyani’s The Great Transformation 

Stuart Eldon’s presentation of Lefebvre is good: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/marxist-thought-and-the-city

Everybody should read Franz Fannon just to be an educated person. 

Gen Z and mental health awesomeness (Millennials, too, maybe?)

Like culture war stuff, I generally find these generational divides to be artificial. I have a wonderful demographer colleague, don’t get me wrong, but I think so much of the intergenerational stuff of “Ok, Boomer” and whatnot tends to be about exploiting ageism to get clicks more than anything. There are selfish, awful people in every generation just like there are cool, giving, and wonderful people in each one. I cut my teeth protest with a 92 year-old Grandmother who hated nukes. (and who understood how to ally very well in that she knew one way to make the police calm the hell down was to make them arrest a 92 year-old white lady.) Yeah, there are lotsa Boomer NIMBYs but I am also seeing a LOT of twenty-something dudes at these white supremacist rallies.

So there’s the disclaimer. Like the culture war stuff, there are differences, and some of those differences are meaningful. And there is one difference that I love soooooooooooooooooooo much: my Gen Z students talk about going to see their therapists like my generation talks about going to see the dentist. I really don’t have words to describe how healthy and awesome that is.

Mental health was so stigmatized when I grew up and as we all know, that shit kills people. Now, my students are really privileged, and I don’t want to downplay the many, many barriers that many still have in being able to get treatment, let alone mention it in conversation with the assumption that they will still be respected and cared for. But the fact that anybody can do it is a breath of fresh air. I’ve been told many many times about how brave I am for being as real as I am about my own depression, anxiety, and addiction struggles and the reason I did that was so that people could feel less alone in theirs.

I’m sitting here at my desk smiling as I think about it because it makes me incredibly happy to see how many younger generations can just get what they need without having to deal with a lot of stigma and other crap.

Students are always inspiring, but this particular point is really special to me. They are a great example. Get what you need; there is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself.

Award committees can go fuck right off

Ok, I am going to admit: I am not a good loser. I could care less about 90 percent of the things, but I rather routinely put together award nominations for young scholars because getting these can actually move the needle on their promotion. Guess what? Young people never win them. It makes me furious.

This past fall, I had an experience with something that has happened to me all-too-often. I put together a nomination for call that, at the time I read the damn thing, read as “It seems pretty clear that they have written this *specifically* so that they can award it to this particular senior scholar.”

My colleagues wanted to nominate me, but then they turned around and dumped all the work on nominating me on me and I was like, screw that. If I’m going to do all this work, I’m going to nominate somebody I think is deserving and who could use the boost for tenure time. I have more than enough money and more than enough status, including awards I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve. I’m good.

I was still dubious that this one was hard-wired, but like all award nominations, this one was a fuck-ton of work, and I thought to myself “Nah, they wouldn’t put people to a fuck-ton of work if they just wanted to give so-and-so an award.”

Guess what? They handed that person the award, after making all the monkeys dance.

Of course they did. Because causing other people to do pointless god-damn work is the funnest part of the power trip, and having something to award is a power trip.

Now, I have no problem with who got it. This is a very deserving, very accomplished person whom I happen to adore personally.

Here’s how this should go, though: JUST GIVE THEM THE GOD-DAMN AWARD YOU WANT TO GIVE THEM AND SPARE THE REST OF US THE GIANT TIME SINK, MMMMMKAY?

All these damn things are the same. You write and write and write, beg people for support letters, write up the damn “brief” so that nobody on the award committee has to write that whoooooooooooooole paragraph themselves, and then the award committee gives the award to the senior scholar they wanted to give it to from the get-go.

Award committees are the same damn way. I sit on award committees because I am too weak to just say no. I am going to start saying no. This is how every single award committee goes:

  1. We are given packets and/or papers to read.

2. Guy on the committee gives us a spreadsheet we are all supposed to fill out because spreadsheets are very scientifical.

3. despite the magic of the spreadsheet, we all wind up with different, subjective assessments of the best paper/packet/whatever.

4. I usually try to push some younger scholars into the final mix for the big committee to choose from.

5. Various arguments ensue, and committee gravitates to giving the cookies to the senior scholars on the list who already have all the cookies and for whom the cookies will be a little boost to already well-fed ego.

6. I step up and make one last argument for trying to get the award to an equally good package/paper from a more junior scholar.

THEN THE EXCITEMENT HAPPENS:

7. Old dudes whine/swing their dicks around until one of the following happens (ooooooo are you on the edge of your seats? Are you?):

a) Senior scholar gets the award because I am tired of fighting with windmills. OR (DRUMROLL PLEASE)

b) Junior male scholar who DOES EXACTLY THE SAME WORK in virtually EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as obnoxious, dick-swinging dude on the committee gets the award. This will be a quantitive paper with an utterly forgettable set of regression models because the women I likely suggested probably did some LAME case study that did things like talking to other unimportant women or the poors instead of running a regression model about the poors like this heroic young dude scholar did.

IOW, you are on notice planning world: I’m done with your award committees.

Oh, and when you write your perfunctory “I’m so sorry, we didn’t even read the fuck-ton of work you put together for the scholar we didn’t give the award to” email, PROOFREAD IT so it feels less slapdash than it really is.

When you are too depressed to write your sabbatical proposal

Even my very supportive spouse tends to think that I am merely taking days off when I am struggling with depression. It is hard to communicate that what looks like a great, relaxed day for other people is, for me, the result of being unable to focus at all, on anything, and mostly just sleeping and feeling miserable for inexplicable reasons. Yes, Netflix is on, but I am not watching it, let alone enjoying it. I am looking for the sounds of words outside those inside my head. The ones on Netflix are having adventures. The ones inside my head are telling me I’m worthless and everything is futile, and no I can’t just cheer up.

When people response to your depression with “go out, get some exercise” and “eat better, you’ll feel better” and suggestions you are merely taking time off and being lazy, your depressed brain internalizes all those words as further evidence that you are terrible. At everything. After all, if you just ate that salad, you’d be fine!

Which is why I think I may have given myself the ultimate evidence this week that no, depression is not a just matter of not eating the salads, taking the walks, perking oneself up by one’s will: I was too depressed to write a tiny little sabbatical proposal. The same one they gave us is a page and a half long. Who can’t manage that? Most of my blog posts are longer than that.

Who couldn’t manage it? Me that’s who. So yeah, if this were all about lazing about, NOTHING would be a bigger prize than the sabbatical. Nonetheless, two years in a row, I’ve been too depressed to pull that big-bad page and a half together. The page-and-a-half golden ticket to hours and hours of endless slacking and slobbing. Ironic, eh? Yeah, my inactivity has nothing to do with slack and slobbing and everything to do with a brain hard-wired to hate myself.

Sabbatical proposals are due today. Wish me luck. I am going to try to slop something together and hope like hell nobody reads it, as it will be incoherent and horrible. It will be a testimony to the fact that I am, in all likelihood, utterly washed up as a researcher. But I can’t stand failing to turn anything in TWO YEARS IN A ROW.

Are you a good mentor if you are good to your own and evil to your (younger) competition?

Thrasymachus is a key intellectual influence on me. Plato nerds will remember Thrasymachus from The Republic, who blows in, not very friendly, and says that justice is aid/support of one’s friends and evil to one’s enemies.

In post-New Testament world where Christianity has had a lot of influence, that kind of statement is easier to downplay. We’re all God’s children, etc. In Socrates’ world, fierceness towards one’s enemies was way more of a given.

I think about this a lot now and then as I move into the latter part of my career. I have been what I consider to be a good arm’s length mentor to lots of young people. I do what I can for people, it hasn’t mattered to me all that much.

But here late, I’ve noticed that students with whom I have made a connection during recruitment time tend to use my time, a lot, even though they have said ‘thank you, no thank you’ to coming to our program at USC. Now, me being nice about all this is the best of both worlds: you get to go to various programs with their various brands and personalities AND you get my time/attention.

But that is time and attention that I am not giving my own students. I have always had a rule that no matter what, I will make time for people. I don’t snippily throw people out of my office. I stop in the hallway, when I can, for a chat. This is what normal human beings call “normal human behavior” but in the academy is weirdly rare. If you are busy, you are important, not a poor time manager or self-important dweeb, even though, in reality, all of these are equally likely explanations.

But as I have gotten sicker, my energies are more limited, and people have to wait longer for my help.

I hate the idea of blowing off young people. I hate it.

I have been reflecting on this a lot thinking about This One Dude at This One University from my past who is widely beloved as a mentor. And I think he’s probably pretty good. He has in his sphere a small group of younger scholars (and now, more established scholars) that work at his uni and occupy his Center.

But he was monumentally shitty to me as a young scholar at a different university. He used his outsized reputation (he’s a good scholar, but because he is a white male, the world views him as A GREAT SCHOLAR THE GREATEST THAT HAS EVER BEEN) to get on every NSF panel even remotely relevant to his kingdom, and he fucking *savaged* every proposal and paper down to every sentence I wrote. And I don’t think I’m alone. I can think of no successful young scholars in this field that didn’t pay him obeisance at his university.

His proteges have reaped the benefits of his willingness to destroy younger scholars elsewhere. Some of these people are not particularly great scholars, but they get in the door because he lets him in and, importantly, keeps other out.

Now, I was in the field briefly, and I think the work I did in the field was damn good. But as a young and ambitious scholar, I knew when that I was fighting uphill and in the rain, and I wandered off elsewhere.

There is part of me that thinks, eh, it’s just ego. The world turns and the field develops without me. So what? But I really, really believe in the scholarly endeavor of having many voices and many perspectives to create insights. Single schools of thought make me nervous, especially when those are created and perpetuated by power rather than quality of ideas.

The idea of acting the way he did towards me in my relationship to other young scholars makes me sick to my stomach. It’s way, way far afield of my core values as a person and a scholar. When you get yours in life, you have one job, and that job is to help others get theirs. Period.

But there’s Thrasymachus. Maybe I have done my own students a disservice by my big-tent conduct. Maybe they have suffered from my unwillingness to throw kids out of the tent whenever I have had the power to do so.

On citation metrics and the discovery that I am not as vain as I think I am (but still, entirely vain enough)

I was working on a student’s paper this morning and giving them title ideas to help them gain an advantage during keyword and Boolean searches to make sure their published work gets as many eyeballs as possible, and it occurred to me:

I haven’t checked my own citation counts in….years.

How long has it been? I used to check quite a bit.

I didn’t feel particularly compelled to look now, either.

Then it occurred to me; I haven’t check those damn numbers since I got promoted to full. I remember some grad school partner of somebody laughing about how a professor made her keep monthly counts of his/her citations, and I remember thinking, man, that’s some ego. But I think I probably checked my mine about monthly.

And I know why I check then and why I don’t check now: places like USC use them damn numbers for tenure and promotion, and if even if you aren’t checking, they are.

The inhumane and yucky things we do to junior faculty–smh.

I’m not going to check now, either. They don’t matter.

Have a good weekend, if you are fortunate enough to have one.

Words written: 250
Book I’m Reading: LeavingAtlanta by Tayari Jones 
Listening to: Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy
Beverage: Coffee, black

Let’s talk about menopause

So I like to be up front about things and take the stigma and shame out of dealing with them, and thus my topic is menopause.

I have no idea if I am going through it or not because doctors are utterly fucking useless at discussing it, and the only actual definition I find for it is…not having your period for a year. Then you’ve had, as my mother said euphemistically, your “change of life.” There are hot flashes, and they suck.

I don’t have hot flashes. Yet. We’ll see.

I personally wouldn’t know know because my menses have not paused in FORTY GODDAMN YEARS. Yes, you heard that right, friends, I got my period when I was 11. ELEVEN.

I am now staring down the barrel of 50 YEARS OLD AND I STILL HAVE MY GOD-DAMN PERIOD.

I HAVE TECHNICALLY BEEN FERTILE FOR FORTY YEARS NO WONDER THE ROMANS COULD NEVER GET RID OF THE GERMANS IF THIS IS WAY GERMAN WOMEN ARE SET UP FFS. (This is actually Andy’s joke, but I am stealing it because if that is all you have to say vis-a-vis your wife bleeding out until she is 400 years old, you deserve to have your clever historical bon mots taken from you.)

If, after 40 years, I haven’t used my uterus yet, you’d think that somebody, somewhere would get a clue that I don’t need to do this all the time anymore.

Yep, yessirrrreee been doing this for 40 years. Forty years. Kinda getting old by now. And all. Forty years.

Oh yeah, it’s changed and everything. For the worse. It now knocks me all the way out. All the way out. For a week ahead of time, the combination of my chronic illness and my cycle make me so tired I can barely walk from my office to the bathroom. That’s like 15 yards. I had to take THREE breaks walking from the Nazi building (VKC*) to the Tutor Center Friday. THREE. Come on.

During the first day of, I can’t concentrate. On anything. I have partial thoughts about everything. It’s ironic because when I have a period, there are no periods because I can’t think in complete sentences. See what I did there? A little punctuation and grammar humor for you. Full service blog, this one.

Here’s me on Day. 1: “I need to go get….the thing out of the thing…where…Halloween decorations and a tire iron.” And: ” I am going to write this sentence about…the thing…where is the…thing.”

I’m not used to feeling stupid.

This lasts for three days. I am stupid for three solid days. Smartest Boy Urbanists, plan your attacks for those days. Apparently you will have three days of opportunity until the end of time. Run with it.

We won’t talk about how my period has changed from a normal thing into Moses turning the Nile into a river of blood because as every doctor will tell you, this is because of my weight because everything that has ever happened to me in my entire life is about my weight because doctors like everybody else are lazy fucks and when presented with a fat woman there are two things every doctor knows: 1) she’s a complete failure at everything and lives in utter disgust with herself every moment of every day because how could she not? and 2) everything is the fault of her weight and since her weight is her fault, Everything is Her Fault and comes from her weight. Tell her to lose weight and fill the paperwork to charge the insurance company for your valuable time, check.

I apparently am never ever going to go through menopause because I’m not skipping periods. Did I mention that? I HAVEN’T SKIPPED A SINGLLE PERIOD IN FORTY YEARS. NOT A SINGLE ONE.

You know how some women are all “oh, golly wolly, if I get stressed out I will skip my period.”

If I get stressed out, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t NOT been stressed out since I was 4 and my parents decided they couldn’t stand me, I bleed more.

Ya wanna know the other great thing that’ll come from me writing this no-holds-barred, up-front, frank, open, stigma-fighting post? I’ll have one stupid Bro show up to tell me he hopes I’m using a Diva cup or some other thing because Just Think of the Environmental Waste from my periods and then I’ll have about 10 incel types show up and claim this is why women should remain in the home because yada yada yada yada like somehow caregiving and homemaking aren’t 24/7 work assignments especially with useless yoinks like incels around.

*Dear USC: you best change this name or I am just going to call it a Nazi building.

Words written: I have high hopes for another day. 
Book I’m Reading: Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
Listening to: Classical curves
Beverage: Coffee, black