I need not explain that we have all had A YEAR. That is pretty well established; we are feeling the relentlessness of this pandemic mentally, emotionally, and physically. So at The Metropole, we wanted to brighten up this season of darkness with a little gratitude practice.
The phrase “gratitude practice” makes me reflexively cringe, because I associate it with woo woo and crystals and cleanses. But I remind myself that gratitude is the basis of most world religions; in my own, Judaism, the first prayer you say upon waking in the morning is called “Modeh Ani,” and it roughly translates to “Thank you God for restoring my soul to me, filled with your eternal trust.” Regardless of one’s belief in God, it’s a nice sentiment. There are no guarantees in life, and every day we wake up is a victory, a celebration.
But this victory is more than a personal one. An individual survives and thrives on the basis of communal efforts to support and sustain one another. No success emerges from a vacuum. That’s especially true in our professions as urbanists, and so we are featuring a month of Academic Odes to the people, works, or moments that shaped us into the scholars we have become. Over the following weeks, we will publish odes to mentors, students, and even places. But to get us started, I want to share a few odes to the insights gleaned from training in and practicing history.
An ode to: Better understanding human nature
The most important lesson I learned in my doctoral training was this: people are not internally consistent. When I was writing a chapter about a disagreement between prominent rabbis over the value of Jewish Community Centers, I read the various articles and arguments written by one critic over the course of several years. I called one of my advisors and asked her to help me reconcile several contradictory statements this rabbi had made. She shrugged and said, “I don’t think they can be reconciled. People are not internally consistent.” It was one of those moments when the world came into sharper focus and everything just started to make more sense.
An ode to: Becoming accustomed to delayed gratification
Pandemic life has been the ultimate test of delayed gratification, but spending 3-10 years working on a scholarly project is probably the best training you could ever get in prolonging payoff.
An ode to: Recognizing that sole authorship is not a solo endeavor
While most articles, monographs, and heck, even blog posts published in urban history are credited to a single author, the final products reflect the input of collegial readers, peer reviewers, and editors. It took me many years to figure this out. When I finished my dissertation, I felt like every claim had been fed to me by a mentor or colleague—not a single thought was original or my own. So many colleagues have reassured me, over the ensuing years, that they feel the same. No one will dig through the archives and analyze sources to the extent that the author will, but from that point on the scholarly endeavor is collaborative.
An ode to: Finding the kindest people in the room
It’s no secret that academia is a harsh arena, between the competitiveness for jobs, the racism and misogyny, and the Ass Deans. There’s a lot to be cynical and embittered about, and a lot of petty, venal, and mean people who are difficult to avoid. But scattered among them are kind, generous colleagues who do things like volunteer to run online writing groups, or read epically long drafts of your digital projects and provide detailed feedback and suggestions, or agree to start up a blog with a total stranger. You know who you are. Thank you.
We are still seeking mini-ode submissions! Use this Google form to submit a 1-2 sentence shout-out. We’ll compile them all together into an epic Valentine’s card on the blog, candy hearts not included.
Featured image (at top): Love to All, ca. 1890, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.