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In Which I Have Traveled the Night (End of 2017 Reflection)

December 24, 2017

I have wanted to write about this year for a while now. Seeing everyone’s end of the year reflections starting to emerge has only compounded this desire. But what to say?

In the end, I find that don’t have much to say, other than to talk about my emotions. I’ve been very active on Twitter this year, so my responses to the current administration are out there. I feel that America is at a moment of serious reckoning—we are being forced to look at what we have attempted to keep buried for too long. I’ve studied these moments as a historian—but somehow in my naivete I assumed I’d never live through anything similar. But here we are.

I spent most of this week writing and rewriting a response to historian Megan Kate Nelson’s excellent blog post on the current state of the history Ph.D. I have yet to produce a response, however, that isn’t a diatribe against myself for not winning the “magical history job brass ring” or a rant against the conditions in academia and society that have made the history profession such a precarious place. So that piece of writing remains in my draft folder for now.

My sadness comes down to the fact that we as historians are keepers and interpreters of the past while we live in a “fake news” era. And during this year in particular it’s been really heartbreaking. Personally so as I cobble together sporadic research and writing gigs while wondering if the Ph.D. that I fought so hard to finish was even worth it.

In the end I feel it was, even if all it did was teach me how to wrestle with the demons of my own past and that of the nation.

Academic Twitter has been a godsend this year. I’ve met a lot of people who are just like me—we’re scholars but we don’t fit into the established models. I’m getting more okay with the idea that whatever I end up doing is going to be very specific to me, created out of the ether. I’m frankly tired of hiding who I am behind all of things that I think I’m supposed to be.

I follow psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach online, and she recently sent out a newsletter in which she quoted from the poet Rumi’s “Search the Darkness.” At the end of 2017, it’s worth looking at in full:

Sit with your friends; don’t go back to sleep
Don’t sink like a fish to the bottom of the sea.

Surge like an ocean,
don’t scatter yourself like a storm.

Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.

Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.

Be a wakeful candle in a golden dish,
don’t slip into the dirt like quicksilver.

The moon appears for night travelers,
be watchful when the moon is full.

So travel the night with me, my friends, as we carry the light into 2018.


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