Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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Seeing With My Eyes – Squirrel Edition

I cannot believe that I am this many days old and have only now learned that squirrels make leaf nests in trees. They make them when there’s no hollowed out little nooks in trees available. I only know this now because I’ve just Googled this topic. But mere moments ago, I had no idea squirrels, creatures that I adore, make nests out of leaves and branches.

I’ve noticed what appear to be big balls of leaves and twigs in a number of trees surrounding our house. I’ve wondered over them. They are too big and look too messy to be birds’ nests. They almost look haphazard enough to be a collection of branches that just got stuck together, but they are a bit too dense for that explanation.

I came about this revelation moments ago. Motion outside my office window drew my eye. I looked and saw a squirrel running across a branch carrying a twig a bit larger than itself with multiple leaves hanging off of it. It ran to one of these bunches of leaves and twigs, disappeared in it, deposited the branch and leaves, and scurried back out. Within moments he was back with another mouthful of tree detritus.

I was astonished and tickled. Partially, I was astonished that this explanation for the leaf balls is so obvious, that I’m not sure how I missed it. Partially, I was astonished to learn that I had no idea where squirrels slept and was blissfully unaware of this gap in knowledge. I was tickled to watch a squirrel build his nest. And I was tickled to encounter my own ignorance of my gaps in knowledge, as discussed in yesterday’s blog post.


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How We Change

This is the best thing I have ever heard on how we change our minds. Spoiler alert: it’s not by producing facts that support the opposing position. Studies show that actually triggers a backfire effect that makes the person cling tighter to their belief. This is one of the main reasons I have mostly stopped arguing with people. Occasionally, I will argue not for the benefit of the person I am directly interacting with, but the people who are reading or watching.

Link to How to Change Your Mind Episode of the Freakonomics podcast.

There are two things in there that fascinate me. First, that we have a weakness that we adopt other’s knowledge as our own. This leads us to overestimate how much we know. This weakness can be rooted out if we force ourselves to think step by step how a thing works. Once we confront that we cannot do this task we update our mental model and mark down how well we understand a thing.

The other thing that interested me was that the most effective way to open someone to changing their mind is to ask them to take the opposing view from their own. I just wonder if getting in this head space just breaks down some barriers in our heads to stop thinking of those opposed to us as others, but forces us to think of them as us. I’m just wondering does this work because it pries us out of our tribes?


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More On Music

There’s evidence that we stop enjoying novelty as we age. Check out this or this. This expiration date for enjoying new things seems to exist in animals as well as humans. It seems that this desire for novelty in humans and animals corresponds to when they seek mates.

It’s entirely possible that’s why I haven’t enjoyed new music for the last 5 years. Maybe I should just feel happy that I made it to 38 before I lost this part of myself. I think the most disturbing aspect of this explanation is figuring out how to disentangle my sense of identity from music. It’s been one of the most consistent and strong parts of who I am since childhood.

But there’s another explanation that I referenced in my last blog post. As noted my disengagement from new music started around the same time I started playing drums. And as I have cultivated a more sensitive sense of time, I am wondering if I can hear music that has digital time vs music that has human time, or music that’s been digitally synched to have precise and accurate time to the millisecond vs the natural variations in time that a human drummer can keep.

I stumbled upon this theory while filpping dials on the radio. I came across a song that I could not flip past even though I didn’t recognize it. After a minute of listening, I heard a subtle inconsistency on the drums that lead me to believe it was a live recording. The crowd noise that came in at the chorus confirmed it. And despite the recording not being particularly good or to my personal taste, I was engrossed. I cannot put words to why I was so captivated.

It only occured to me later, that perhaps I was captivated by hearing the slight variations of a human drummer. My theory is strengthened by my sudden interest in 70’s rock. While I had respect for Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Three Dog Night, and Led Zeppelin, I’ve found myself extrememly eager to hear them on the radio. Synching to click tracks didn’t become prevalent until the 80’s and 90’s in music production; technology to execute the synching wasn’t readily available until then. So, I suspect my sudden interest in 70’s rock might also be my ear longing to hear slight variation.

I am not alone in being hungry for human time. The trans godmother of electronic music says:

“I find it a great tragedy that the drum machine has replaced real drummers, become so omnipresent to many listeners that they accept the notion of a completely rigid, fascist beat–something that’s like hearing a pile driver or factory equipment. Someone recently closed his jazz club in Berlin after being successful for a lot of years, but he said he’s leaving it now because the current jazz/pop music doesn’t swing. And it doesn’t: quantized rhythm is rigid and mechanical. We’ve become robots, and it’s tragic.” -Wendy Carlos

This woman is fascinating. You can read the whole interview here.

For now I am going to lean in to my new found love of 70’s rock. Life is too short for me to force myself to listen to things that don’t inspire me. Is it because I am too old to hear new music? Maybe. Is it because my ears are tired of the fascist beat? Maybe. Does it really matter which? Probably not. I needed to shed more of my ego anyway. I’ll just look at this as a step on the path.


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Music Sickness

I can mark every era of my life with music. High school was big-hair rock and alt rock like Depeche Mode, New Order and The Smiths just as grunge was exploding. College was They Might Be Giants, Stef’s 80’s compilation CD, and angsty Lillith Fair music. My Starbucks years brought me Ani DiFranco, Miles Davis, Neko Case, Suicide Machines, and NOFX. Citibank was for Dashboard Confessional, The Postal Sevice, Arcade Fire, and Interpol. And later The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Band of Horses, Rubblebucket, and Tycho.

But there’s been nothing new for the last 5 years. I have listened. But nothing has grabbed me the way new music used to.

Without my primary emotional outlet and touchstone, I am adrift. Maybe I have hit the age where I cannot connect with new music. Maybe there’s some trend in production that my ear just doesn’t like.

Lately I am drawn to music from the 70’s that I never used to favor. I get excited when Three Dog Night or Fleetwood Mac comes across my dial. It’s got me thinking.

I started drum lessons 4 years ago. I am wondering if I am sensitive to something that I wasn’t before. Am I hearing time that’s been synched to a click track (digital time) vs human time.

More on this to come…


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See With Your Eyes

I am a third of the way through the second Game Of Thrones book, A Clash Of Kings. Arya’s sword fighting teacher says to her, “See with your eyes.” This phrase returns to her on several occasions when there are conclusions her mind would rather jump to than see what is in reality before her.

That we see what we want to rather than what is has been on my mind. But I only just connected this thought to something that’s been troubling me for months. It’s been hard for me to reconcile people I know to be honest and hardworking and their support of 45. And it’s been hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value someone who regularly shafts his business partners. It’s hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value a person who has profited off obvious scams. Trump University was quite clearly a scam, even if you refuse to acknowledge that his real estate business most closely resembles a Ponzi scheme.

My working theory to explain this has been that they just aren’t looking at inconvenient facts. Or that their media preferences ensure they never see these facts at all. But another theory altogether has arisen in its place. What if the American myth around hard work is the con? What if this has been the lie deeply embedded in the American myth deployed at anyone without hope to distract them into endless toil?

And perhaps 45’s people believe themselves in on the con. And they will say the words to further the myth. But that’s all they are, words, not deeds. Ironically, I think his people are at once in on the con and the marks, but that’s really beside the point.

If the founding father’s really believed in hard work what exactly did they need slaves for? Why wasn’t Thomas Jefferson out there tilling his own fields? If hard work really purifies the soul, I don’t know why they enslaved others to do all the heavy lifting.

One of the aspects of 45’s presidency that I personally find fatiguing, is that I keep stumbling over American ideals and finding them facades papering over the enshrined right of the powerful to exploit the weak. In some ways it reminds me of losing my faith. I never lost faith in The Beatitudes. I never lost faith in the golden rule. I just saw with my eyes that some of the very people espousing these things to me do not practice them. I shed the na├»ve belief that people using these words would in fact keep them in good faith.


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Facebook Vacation

I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with Facebook for the last several months. Partially, I don’t think it enriches my life, and that I could do with more boredom rather than filling every space with scrolling. That I’ve become more thoughtful about Facebook’s impact on me emotionally and intellectually is probably a consequence of reading this book.

Capture

It’s challenged me to be more intentional with how I engage with technology. I am curious to see what my life with less Facebook and more blogging might feel like. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing, and I have a vague sense that I miss it even while I feel no buring desire to write about anything in particular.

This alone would be sufficient to compel me to minimize my use, but Mark Zuckerberg keeps giving me more reasons. In his recent testimony to Congress he rewrote history saying that the primary purpose of Facebook was to protest the Iraq War. This is a bald face lie. He was having a sad as his ex girlfriend and created Harvard hot or not. There wasn’t any functionality to editorialize, so this lie is so egregious he might have said Facebook was created to cure cancer and been wrong in the same order of magnitude.

Years ago, I became convinced that Facebook as a news aggregator did a piss-poor job. I cultivated a Feedly account in the meantime, and am now perfectly happy with what it shows me. And for unknown reasons, my Feedly feed doesn’t make me angry or anxious to the degree that news on Facebook does. My assumption is that when I am not seeing my friends’ editorial take on links to articles, I approach the same content with a more neutral emotional affect. So, I get less self-righteous anger with those whom I agree and less conflict with those whom I don’t agree.

Armed with my Feedly account, I am ready to remain informed without Facebook. Today I am testing out whether my blog auto-posts to Facebook. Once I get that working, I am going Facebook dark for the month of December. If you want to reach me, comment here on wordpress, text, or email. Let’s see how I feel after a month of blogging and no social media.

(Note: I have Twitter, but I don’t ever log in. I don’t have Instagram. Hence, Facebook is the only social media site I regularly connect to.)


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The Hawks

I went to my dad’s sister’s one hundredth birthday party. I haven’t seen my dad’s side of the family since his funeral in the late summer of 2016, and that day was such a blur that I don’t fully recall everyone I saw.

My favorite two memories of Aunt Edna Belle are quite different but taken together express much about her. She taught me how to do doughnuts with front wheel and rear wheel drive cars. And I helped her make popcorn balls at Christmas, which like many good culinary treats of the 60s and earlier involve masochist elements both in the eating and the making. Popcorn balls are made by using searing hot liquified sugar to bind popped corn together in a spherical shape, sometimes with a bit of food coloring to make the popcorn have an unnatural color to go with its unusual shape. Eating them would require immediate access to tooth picks or floss. When eating the balls like apples every square inch of your gums were vulnerable to popcorn detritus that is usually limited to the molars when tossing back individual kernels.

I say this with no sense of irony. I adored them. And as I am remembering what the exact experience is of eating and making them was, I have no explanation for my childhood feelings about those treats.

I saw several of my cousins whom I haven’t seen in years, and I was very happy I took the time to come. We are legion. I am the youngest of 32 grandchildren on my dad’s side. So just by the numbers it’s reasonable that I struggle to remember all of them, remembering spouses and children are out of the question.

I had two unexpected delightful experiences. First, my Aunt Susie, not the birthday lady, struggled to recognize me. She’s 90 and I look like a man, so honestly, I wasn’t in any way bothered by this. I told her who I was, and she immediately recalled.

Later she approached me and told me that she was stunned when she saw me because she thought I was my dad, and she really thought she was losing her marbles as he’s dead, and further would be many decades past my age. She said just for a moment she felt the joy she would have at seeing him, and she was grateful for it. I was happy to have helped her to it.

My cousin, Richard, told me about a letter he found that my dad had sent to his father, my Uncle Bray. He said he would send it to me. In it my dad expressed gratitude for all his brothers and sisters, and Richard thought I would like having it. I said my dad was a very sensitive man who expressed his feelings to the extent the age he lived in would allow. And Richard’s eyes lit up. He said all the Hawk men were.

He said one of the nurses who worked with his dad told him a story at his dad’s funeral. His dad, Uncle Bray, was a head surgeon at one of the hospitals in St. Louis. At the end of his 14 and 16 hour days he would take extra time to prepare warm towels and cover the infants and children in the polio ward with them before leaving for the day. At the time the only thing they could do for them was keep them comforted.

And like that we shared an unexpected connection. Richard has always lived in St. Louis, and I bet all the words we’ve ever spoken are a fraction of what’s in this post. And yet we both knew something so fundamental about our fathers. For how hard their lives were, The Hawks, all of my dad’s nine siblings, were shrewd but unfailingly generous and optimistic.

They had such an easy way of welcoming people to their raucous party. I envied the breezy way my dad could get people to talk to him. So, when my Aunt Elaine, my mom’s sister, who went on several trips with my dad’s siblings, told me after dad died that I am definitely a Hawk by nature my words of thanks caught in my throat. It is such a cherished complement. I am thankful to have known them and that parts of them live in me.