Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


100 Books While 40: THE SUN ALSO RISES

Title: The Sun Also Rises
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Published: 1926

It is ok to have feelings if you are always drunk while fishing or watching bull fighting. I guess it is manly to feel but only when you do incredibly manly things like watching bulls gore a horse to death. Where I a man, I would not find this reassuring.

Once you have seen the carnage that was WWI, I imagine it difficult to get excited doing your desk job. What is the point after you have seen how indiscriminately lives are destroyed? It would be difficult to come to any other conclusion than this one: the only thing that matters is that you enjoy your moments. Apart from that, we are promised nothing.

When I think about life through this lens, I know exactly why Hemingway lived as he did. He took joy from the things that he could. He wrote because he enjoyed the struggle. He drank, watched bullfights, and traveled because these things brought him pleasure. The end.

Maybe it’s hubris that makes many of us think there is anything else. That we agonize about meaning, or strive to build businesses or homes, are all folly unless we take joy from the effort itself. Investing in the future at the expense of the now, assumes something. It assumes that life is fair.

These moments of reorientation happen for me periodically. There is a paradigm shift, and then I struggle to make sense of the implications of it. If I had to summarize 2016 it would be thus. What I perceived as indulgent, incorrect actions resulted in excellent outcomes. What I perceived as the hard, correct actions resulted in horrible outcomes. Maybe I need to take up bullfighting and smoke more cigars.

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Out West

We spent Thanksgiving in Denver visiting Jeannine’s brother and his family. We ate. We hiked. We ate some more. We experienced flight delays on Frontier, which seems the norm. 

I am still having nightmares about going into hiding. But here’s these pictures. Who knows how long I have this ability.

Frozen Bear Lake

Bear Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park. I joked it will be the sight of the next Trump hotel. For a mere 2000 dollars you can play golf there. It will be great.

Bear Lake in Colorado

We climbed some rocks there, and it was great.

Falcon Mountain

This is on the trail up to the top of Falcon Mountain. I don’t know it it looks like a falcon or was home to many falcons. Or none of the above.

John Brisben Walker house ruins

John Brisben Walker built a 10 bedroom stone chalet there. It burned in a fire, and he said fuck it I am out.

John Brisben Walker house ruins

It was super cool to wander the ruins. Apparently the fire places needed to be brick and not stone. Also, the brick aged better.

John Brisben Walker house ruins

That fence is hampering my freedom to casually destroy the ruins. Don’t tread on me fence!

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Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Published: 2010

Who is entitled to our genetic material? If my cells enable a drug company to create a profit generating drug should I get some of the proceeds? As the laws are today, I couldn’t. Sharing the profits with me would cause drug companies to stop making drugs, or so they say. That last sentence is so absurd I laughed a little while typing it. 

Henrietta Lacks signed off on giving her cancerous cervical cells to research. Years later her cells have been reproduced enough to encircle the world. They were used in developing several cancer treatments. In essence these cells were the precursor to billions of dollars of medical services and treatments. Meanwhile Henrietta’s children and grandchildren cannot afford healthcare.

Something is deeply wrong with this. Although I am not of the opinion that The Lacks family should be millionaires off their mom’s genetic material, it does feel unjust that her children cannot afford the treatments that their mother enabled. At the core of this book is the conflict inherent in capitalism as our caretaker.

We are engaging with a set of economic causes and effects, all the while pretending there is some morality to it. There’s nothing moral in supply and demand, it is better a display of amoral power. Those that have can extort those that do not to greatest degree possible. And when they do so we consider that “good” business. 

If we question the outcomes of this blind system, we are always scolded with the dramic choice between no healthcare and a more equitable system or healthcare for the wealthy. This either/or proposition has been demonstrated as false by Britain’s NHS and Canada’s healthcare. But we still believe that to control morally bankrupt capitalist forces in our healthcare is to handover our decisions to a soulless government minion. But a profit-seeking insurance agent is just peachy.

Lifting this rock a bit more reveals our unspoken, toxic adoration of wealth as being synonymous with right and good, and poverty being only a moral failing rather than a systemic feature of capitalism. Most of the rich people I know have overcome less barriers than the poor people I know. If what we really value is hard work, my time waiting tables should have been better than my time spent in my cushioned office chair directing project meetings. But that isn’t what my pay says. 

Meanwhile I will enjoy my yearly checkup in a few weeks. I will get my teeth cleaned with no out of pocket expenses. And I will think about a those years waiting tables with no healthcare. And I will consider that I must have become more morally good since then.

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100 Books While 40: DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL

Title: Diary of a Young Girl
Author: Anne Frank
Published: 1952

I always wondered why my fundamentalist school didn’t have us read this book. Now I know.

I already had these kinds of feelings subconsciously before I came here, because I remember that once when I slept with a girl friend I had a strong desire to kiss her, and that I did do so. I could not help being terribly inquisitive over her body, for she had always kept it hidden from me. I asked her whether, as proof of our friendship, we should feel one another’s breasts, but she refused. I go into ecstasies every time I see the naked figure of a woman, such as Venus, for example. It strikes me as so wonderful and exquisite that I have difficulty in stopping the tears rolling down my cheeks. If only I had a girl friend. 

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

It would be unacceptable to normalize same-sex attraction. More darkly, the strict obedience that’s enforced in fundamentalist communities is authoritarian in nature. Further the Jews are pagans just as much as Satanists, so fostering empathy for their marginalization and mass murder doesn’t serve their interests.

Anne Frank shares her deepest struggles to embrace true connection and to assert her independence from her parents all the while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. Her immediate family shares a set of hidden rooms in a warehouse with a few others for over two years. It’s after D Day when they are discovered, and unfortunately only Anne’s father survives their internment. Her last entry she shares her choice to believe in the goodness inherent in us all in spite of her keen understanding of the atrocities she’s attempting to escape. And then. Silence. 

We have been pointedly reminded that we are in hiding, that we are Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand duties. We Jews mustn’t show our feelings, must be brave and strong, must accept all inconveniences and not grumble, must do what is within our power and trust in God. Sometime this terrible war will be over. Surely the time will come when we are people again, and not just Jews. 

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

Are we any better now? Are homosexuals people? Are Muslims people? Our vice-president elect attempted to redirect funding to treat AIDS patients towards conversion therapy, including shock treatment, to make gay people straight. Our president seeks to prevent Muslims from immigrating to the US. He has promised to register them, the first step that Hitler took in his campaign to eradicate The Jews. Are we any different now? 

I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

Oh, it is sad, very sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: “What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.”

Anne Frank in The Diary of a Young Girl

It is enraging and comforting to know that this false narrative persists: when someone from the majority commits horrible acts it is only a reflection of himself while when a minority commits horrible acts it represents all that is wrong with the entire minority population. This false generalization has been with us for ages. Resisting it is an old struggle. But that it still persists suggests I will die with it continuing to hold power.

History is sitting here telling us everything we need to know. The power hungry among us will continue to flatter and build resentment. And like those before us we will foolishly listen.

Stealing value from one life steals value from us all.

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100 Books While 40: OF HUMAN BONDAGE

Title: Of Human Bondage
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Published: 1915

Nothing can rival the passing of years to impart understanding and wisdom to the thoughtful. The stories of all the men Philip wanted to be versus the man he actually became is only meaningful to one who has seen many of their lives spin out of our imaginations and later die on the indifferent shores of reality.

Age gives these truths. Unlike The Age of  Innocence this shows the way in which our thwarted dreams can give space for the perfect dream unseen but desired. After many false starts Philip finds his love and contentment in simple pleasures afforded by a modest life. 

It is in the smile of a loved one or their small victory in sharing who they are. These are the gifts easily missed in the forest of our own distracting sensations and habit of living in the future or the past. They are waiting to be seen just beyond the TV and our phone screens. They are there just to the side of the bitter disappointment over a lost job or a missed opportunity. 


100 Books while 40: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Published: 1920

Robert Martin said The Age of Innocence was, “fundamentally about America and its failure to fulfill its own possibilities”. This resonates now more than ever. The ideal of this country and its execution in practice are at odds.

We proclaim freedom, meritocracy, and pioneering. But our social constructs suggest just the opposite. Just as Newland Archer is compelled to give up his true love for the social script that he’s been given, we are directed to follow the script of our parents. We are to get married, go to church, have children, and work at our uninspired jobs.

I threw the script away, and have been paying for it in big and small ways. I am alienated from my family. I am regularly reminded that I am not fulfilled because I don’t have children.

This was a sacrifice that Archer wasn’t willing to make. As one who has made it, I can say that there are enormous costs. But there are benefits that I cannot express. A few months ago I rode a motorcycle up the side of a volcano in Costa Rica. This experience was so sublime that I cannot capture with words how it felt. I have walked the streets of Manila, Prague, Newcastle, Paris, Tokyo, Panama City, Amsterdam, Vienna, and San Jose. I’ve worked with people all over the planet. I’ve learned that we are all the same, seeking fulfillment and life just in different languages and structures.

And I found love. I found it in places free of expectation and custom. I found it where people are truly free to give of themselves without social binding. Love, generosity when it is so freely given is precious, more so than any possible material wealth.

The yearnings of Newland Archer are both with us as individuals and with us as a nation. Looking through his eyes as his dreams move beyond his grasp, I see how so many of us are full of resentment. As we move forward together but apart the ties that bind will keep moving to hold us all down. But where the Newland Archers leave off, there will be the quiet marginalized pioneers wrestling down the spirit of life with all its dazzling energy and beauty.


One Last Thing

By last Thursday I had stopped crying at random times. When I opened the email from my CEO in my fluorescent flooded office, I was caught off-guard. After turning off notifications on Facebook and Twitter, I felt secure words wouldn’t launch their surprise attacks anymore. It wasn’t the expected and obvious continued show of discrimination, racism, sexism, and generalized aggression that drew my tears, but seeing my friends and peers comforting each other that brought my sobs.

When I opened the email I was expecting the typical corporate scrubbed, neutral content saying the company would intelligently adapt to whatever Trumplandia would throw its way. Or worse a celebration of the promised reduced corporate tax rate that would line the pockets of our shareholders. And it did start out that way. But those words gave way to acknowledging how unsafe and excluded many of us felt after November 9th. He reaffirmed that our diversity is what makes us strong, and it’s our collective broad array of experiences and willingness to share them that enable us to be successful. He said that in this moment, more than ever, we need to stand strong in our values. I wept.

A few hours later, I sat around a conference table with the upper management in our department, mostly women, one black, one a British immigrant, one a Chinese immigrant, and one a giant homo and all incredibly smart. It was the first time we were all together in person. There were several seconds of silence where our glances across the table spoke thousands of words. The walls behind our eyes crumbled for a few seconds and we shared our grief and fear, and our profound disappointment that being safe in America will continue to be a dream just out of reach for all of us. Tears welled and voices choked as we moved on to running the business. Because we are professionals and get shit done even when we are broken and battered.

It came to me then, this is my bubble. Because my religious family and friends from high school have been voting to support my oppression for decades all the while enjoying my jokes and following my travel and cooking exploits, I was painfully aware of straight white people and how little they regard the rights of anyone apart from themselves. But my office is a collection of outsiders, foreigners. My promotions have hinged on my merit. Although subtle sexism is unavoidable, I can’t say that it’s held me back in my career. This. This is my bubble. Sitting around that table, profound gratitude welled up inside my chest. And I am gutted to recall that this is not what most women experience. I am even more gutted to know that many of my fellow Americans can’t even be bothered to defend our physical safety and right to physical autonomy. They certainly don’t care about subtle sexism on the job.

The dreams started last night. In one we were in hiding. My friends and people I love. We were all in jeopardy of being taken. In the other, Jeannine and I were separated by men in uniform. My eyes memorized every small detail of the scene, hungry for what could be the last moment I see her. I knew I would cling to these last few sensations until all sensation stopped. Although the rending of my heart was potent and devastating, what I recall most is lack of remorse. My heart although decimated was unbowed. I knew that those shimmering moments we shared together, were worth it even though it lead us here. Because fleeting seconds of being truly alive are more valuable than years of dead eyed routine living the life others have prescribed.

Now, we wait. I will engage in activism of course, but I have a deep conviction that the dominoes are falling now. And there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. Only luck will turn it aside.

It’s not clear what Trump himself actually thinks seeing as the words that come out of his mouth carry no meaning or truth, but here’s what is clear to me. He is a slave to his ego, a practical opportunist in service of it. I believe he seeks two ends as president, one is to line his pockets and those of his friends and family. The second is to bask in the attention and love of his devotees. It’s possible the worst of his campaign promises will go unfulfilled if the American economy continues to be stable.

But should the economy become unstable, his devotees will demand that he make good on the worst of his words. And because he cannot countenance being booed, he will take action to restore his adoring crowd.  And those actions? They could be anything. I don’t get the sense that he has any internal ethics or morals that would stop him.

Our economy could flounder for various reasons some of them primarily due to Trump and his policies and others due to structural weaknesses left in place after the 2008 Financial Crisis. It’s possible the Trump people appointed to The Fed will enforce monetary policy that will deflate the dollar causing our exports to lose value and our imports to soar. Or the banks that should have been broken up after 2008 could extend themselves yet again especially if regulations are relaxed even further, knowing they can raid the US Treasury at any time. Or Trump’s promised trade wars will bring immediate instability. Our hold on prosperity is tenuous right now, and can evaporate over night.

Apart from financial and ethical crisis at home, Trump will need a war to get reelected. Even if the economy continues at this rate of growth, his policies will not satisfy the economic needs of his fan base. Four years of fleecing the treasury and spouting off to his adoring fans will not be enough, he will want eight.

It will be most obvious to gin up military engagement in Arabic countries. Among his fan base, it will play very well to shoot the towel heads. This even without financial crisis will enable him to enact his most odious promises against Muslims here in the United States. And the people will love him for it. They will stand in line to give away civil liberties for all of us in service of their own bigotry. The war will also open possibilities to grab more power than the executive branch already has. Perhaps the precedent that FDR set will be used to get Trump and unlimited term. After all, we cannot change leaders in a time of war.

I wanted to get all these thoughts out now before they happen. I sincerely hope I am wrong. In the meantime, I will be stuffing Canadian dollars under my mattress. I will be calling my congressmen. I will be organizing with like minded people. I will be stocking an account with Euros. I will be considering growing my hair so I can “pass” at a border check. Just in case. Just in case that nightmare… It wasn’t just a dream. Just in case it was a premonition.

Oh, and I will stop communicating with the people who have spent their whole lives voting to restrict my rights. I was wrong to accept them and their beliefs. It has been twenty years that my mom has been voting to ensure I cannot marry. My dad if he had lived to election day would have voted for Trump. I know now that they were happy to take my energy, my love, my support but equally happy to take my rights, women’s rights, black people’s rights, Muslims’ rights, Jews’ rights. This isn’t a mere difference of opinion. This is an act of hostility too profound to look past.