Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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In Praise Of The 70’s

I started taking drum lessons about 4 years ago. I grew up playing piano, and took up guitar at 18, so playing music wasn’t unfamiliar to me. At the time, I was primarily listening to contemporary indie rock. I liked bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Interpol, Phoenix, Tame Impala, The Decemberists, and Muse.

I don’t fully understand the ways in which playing drums has changed me as a listener, but change has certainly happened. In the last five years, I have shifted away from recent indie releases and toward 70’s and 80’s pop and rock. I’ve always loved 80’s music for nostalgic reasons. But until the last 5 years, I’ve had little to no use for anything in the 70’s not related to early New Wave or Disco.

But here I am thrilled to listen to Fleetwood Mac, Three Dog Night, and even bombastic rock anthems from The Who and Queen. And I simply don’t know what to make of it. I am a little ashamed to admit how deeply music has been intertwined with my sense of identity. And losing my interest in indie rock feels a like losing a part of myself.

Perhaps I should consider this an opening. By losing this aspect of my identity I am freeing myself from obligatory listening and more free to just follow my ears. Perhaps the appropriate response is to acknowledge the sense of loss, but with the knowledge that it clears the path for something new.

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Fall Reflection On The Garden

I started the seedlings in our basement grow room in March. While it has always been part of my gardening plan, the accidental overlap of little green lives taking root in our basement and the onset of COVID-19 lock-downs was fortuitous. We couldn’t have known when we were tearing out Honeysuckle roots with a mattock a couple of years ago, that the effort would put our first year of growing from seed in 2020.

Watching life commence while so much of our human existence was manifesting our own cultural and spiritual sickness buoyed my spirits in the cold damp darkness of spring. This in itself was it’s own reward. Had every one of our seedlings died prior to fruiting, I would still call our first year of growing from seed a success.

But in fact most of our seedlings lived to bear fruit. It’s my custom to meditate on what worked and what didn’t each fall, to make note of what to do differently next season. So here’s my thoughts, that I will most certainly reference for next year.

What worked:

  • The deer defense system vastly improved our harvest and vastly improved the welfare of our blueberry shrubs and raspberry brambles. This year we achieved solid growth, which should get us fruit next season.
  • The black landscaper’s barrier I put down on the berry side of the garden significantly reduced the hours we devoted to weeding this year.
  • Most of the seedlings had a very high germination rate, so planing doubles assuming a high failure to germinate is not necessary with the tomatoes or the squashes.
  • Investment and placing of the soaker hoses worked very well. We didn’t need to manually water anything in the garden this year. We connected the two soakers in the middle of the garden and snaked them out in opposing directions from there

What didn’t work:

  • The deer defense system was easily chewed through by buns. Buns really loved our broccoli. An improvement for next year will be to put chicken wire around the base of the garden to keep the buns at by next year.
  • Some woodland creatures feasted on our squashes. We aren’t sure if buns or squirrels ate 20 acorn, spaghetti, and butternut squashes, but 50 bucks of squash ended up in bellies that are not ours. We already have a bun solution above, but I am planning on bribing the squirrels with a bird feeder next year. I would much rather put out an offering to the fuzzy twittering gods of garden destruction than have them take their due from my plants.
  • Keeping weeds at bay around the margins of the garden was annoying. When we put in the chicken wire at the base, we will also dig out a barrier around the garden edges so we can keep a clean dividing line between what we pass for as grass in our lawn and the garden.
  • Regarding the germination rate above, there was one exception, the bell peppers. Peppers had a high germination failure rate AND a very long lead time to germinate. They should perhaps get their own little green house so they can stay on the heating pad longer than the tomatoes and squashes. And I need to start those earlier than everything else.
  • The winter squashes really need a trellis for next year. They just took over everything including growing up the fence. We need to design and implement a containment system over the winter.

That about covers it. I feel very happy that our blueberry shrubs have rebounded wonderfully from deer monch 2019, and might be ready to bear fruit next year. Of the 10 black raspberry plants I received all have survived, and 8 are thriving. Only two seem to be unhappy with their lot. Our tomatoes have done better this year than they did last, but we really need to get better at both pruning and fertilizing. We ate 20 odd zucchini. We ate our own carrots. We have three small bell peppers that will be ready to pick shortly. We will end up with 7 or 8 beets. We got loads of lettuce this spring. I used tons of carrot and beet greens in homemade beef and chicken broth. There seems to be 4 squashes that the the buns?/squirrels have spared, so we might get to enjoy those yet.

Now I am off to determine placement and gather supplies for my humming bird feeders and my bird (squirrel) feeder.

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It’s All 100101000110

I watched a serene video of a couple of Eastern European women making bolognese sauce over an open flame outside their rustic home. It struck me that large swathes of the world could burn down, and as long as their patch of land remained, they could easily be none the wiser. For them Twitter doesn’t exist. The onions they pulled from their garden do.

It made me wonder. Does Twitter exist? Twitter doesn’t exist in real space apart form ones and zeros on a server somewhere. The only reason Twitter matters is because we assume there are real people expressing real opinions on it. But what if that’s not the case? What if a significant portion of the traffic on Twitter is bots?

About 20 percent of the world’s population is on Twitter. Only about 5 percent of that subset generate almost all of the content. I keep thinking about these facts and asking myself why it seems to play an outsized role in our media landscape.

I’ve always felt a little hostile toward the social media companies. I’ve thought for years that they have too much power, and have proven either unwilling or unable deal with it in a life and democratically affirming way. All things I continue to think. But I am also wondering how much of our current strife could be neutralized if say someone where to push a button and erase Facebook and Twitter tomorrow.

We would still have massive problems. That doesn’t erase climate change or our racist justice system. But it would put an end to arguing with uncle bob about why feeling the need to say all lives matter says more about him than he would like.

And once we aren’t pounding away at our keyboards maybe we would go to a townhall meeting to talk about housing policy? Or maybe we would attend city council meetings to see how the police are spending their massive budgets? And it seems to me that these are the things we can actually influence. Uncle bob doesn’t give a shit about what your libtard ass is saying.

Maybe uncle bob is never going to agree with you, so your time would be far better spent trying to get cannabis decriminalized in your state or city. That would prevent folks from getting ensnared in the justice system and relieve untold amounts of trauma in the community. Sure this isn’t taking down climate change, but is there anything one single individual can do about that unless you’ve got Jeff Bezos money? Not really.

Lately, the sense that this digital world that we’ve chosen to believe is real isn’t. And that we interpret it that was is totally our choice. We can choose differently.

I got a Nintendo for my 10th birthday. When I started Mario Bros, it was clear to me I was engaging in a world that wasn’t real. It was just ones and zeros. Maybe it’s time to treat all social media the same. Unless there are cat videos. The internet was made for cat videos. I will take all the zeros and ones in the form of cat videos, please.

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Author: Gabor Maté

There are aspects of this book that I am suspect of, but there are three aspects of it I completely agree with.

  1. The war on drugs is a complete and total failure.
  2. Addiction is a spectrum and we are all on it.
  3. Heaping ever more punitive punishments on addicts does nothing to resolve their addiction and likely exacerbates it.

Because these three concepts run so counter to our cultural thinking on this topic, I highly suggest this book.

A concept that I keep bumping into is the desire for control and how it drives a whole host of behavior that violates boundaries. The most hurtful things that well-meaning Christians did to me when I came out were rooted in an attempt to control me. Hostile police interactions and excessive minimum mandatory sentencing is an attempt to control. The out-sized emotional reaction to pancake packaging change is about losing, a small, but real symbol of control.

How are we so brittle that we cannot accept the agency of other human beings? Our brains do us no favors here, as they are hard wired to experience change as negative. Change is the only constant in this existence, and you can either choose to grind yourself under that wheel resisting it, or you can embrace it.

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Pumpkin Spice Blues

Cincinnati can have scorching temperatures until late October. The high on Halloween two years ago was in the low 90’s. In fact I would argue that our seasons are off by about 2 months, at least if you orient your seasons to the school year rather than the equinoxes and solstices.

This lack of alignment results me in enjoying a piping hot, sweet, fall spiced pumpkin spice late while sweating profusely in a tank top and trying to hide from the punishing sun. By the time the temperature prompts me to enjoy fall spiced foods, most menus have turned over to eggnog lattes and my moment to enjoy pumpkin spice has passed. I know there are parts of the world where having a white Christmas is out of the question, so this desired alignment of seasonal weather and seasonal beverages is silly.

But as I keep reminding myself suffering is a subjective experience. So, Starbucks, pretty pretty please, can you keep the pumpkin spice flowing until Thanksgiving? I really only need one or two double talls a season, so the first couple week in November would give me plenty of time to enjoy a delicious fall spiced beverage while feeling the crisp, cool air on my face.

Sincerely, ex-partner and ever devoted coffee fanatic.

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I Was Wrong

I’m wrong a lot, so this isn’t really a hard admission for me to make. Regardless, it’s often not fun to face my mistakes. But in this particular instance I’m very happy that I was mistaken.

I lost my faith as a teenager. I didn’t have words to describe it then, but across years I’ve gained more clarity. I simply stopped believing in the version of Christianity I was raised with. And to be clear, that version was partially filtered through the flawed teachers and adults in my life and through my flawed perception. I had a very similar crisis that Carlton Pearson had. He talks about it in this episode of the radio show/podcast This American Life. Listen for background if desired, because this post isn’t about that.

In the version of Christianity that I absorbed as a kid all the verses that are about dying to yourself and our own sinful nature I used as fuel for my own self-loathing. I slashed and burned every square inch of myself each and every day. It left me a burnt-out husk incapable of showing others love or compassion because I couldn’t give myself even a drop.

And this is how my own personal toxicity and the other damaged teachers around me built a church around my own dysfunction. It was sanctified and encouraged destruction. Cloaked in these robes I couldn’t not see this for what it was.

When I lost my faith, I was released from this destructive pattern. It opened the door to healing. And it’s only in retrospect that I see this dynamic clearly.

Recently, those verses and my mistaken interpretation of them have been coming back to me. But they strike me differently. Now, I read them as being about the ego. I think of how every day is a struggle to choose the activities that nurture me rather than the ones that deplete me. I think of the gentle struggle to stop doom scrolling Facebook and go for a walk. I think of resisting the temporary boost of righteous anger from firing off a sharp retort, and instead finding humility and choosing kindness.

I’m happy that some of these teachings are being redeemed to me now. I’m definitely still a heretic. But there’s so much of my morality that is still rooted in the four Gospels. And being able to take some of these teachings back from my own toxic past seems like a welcome signpost on the road to personal healing.

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Woodland Creatures Ate My Squash

Between year one and year two of having our garden we erected a 12 foot tall soccer netting fence around it. Year one taught us that the deer loved the salad bar we’ed toiled away at. We felt sure our deer defense system would solve our critter problems.

Turns out that buns and squirrels chew through soccer netting with ease, and they wouldn’t be dissuaded from our delectable broccoli, lettuces, and squashes. So, we’re looking at adding another later to our deer defense system in the form of chicken wire around the base of it. This upgrade should keep the buns at bay, and our broccoli and lettuces should flourish unimpeded by nibbles.

But the squirrels present a whole a problem that chicken wire cannot solve. I had no idea that squirrels would eat squashes, and not just eat but devour all but the skin of spaghetti and butternut squashes the size of an infant. And take two or three of said squashes a week. I am astounded by how much squash those little critters can get through.

So. I think I have to bribe the squirrel cartel into leaving my squashes alone. I’m going to bribe them with food that they might enjoy more than my squashes. I’m running experiments this fall on what those little guys like. Stay turned for operation squirrel bait.

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At The Cat Shelter

I love animals. For years I’ve considered volunteering at an animal shelter, but my fear that my heart would break in a thousand different ways kept me away until this past winter. On a whim, I decided to sign-up to voluneer at Ohio Allycat Resource.

The shelter is a nice place, not the dingy wall to wall crates with terrified furry little souls inside I had imagined. Most of the cats are in large rooms filled with toys, soft beds and each room has its own little cat doors out to catios where there’s endless bird and squirrel watching available to them. The fact that this temporary home is so nicely outfitted neutralized my worries about leaving my shifts filled with sadness.

While I worried over how much sadness this weekly ritual would bring, I was surprised to find how much it filled me up to do dirty work with several other people who would squeal at kittens just as much as I do. The work is not at all glamorous, scrubbing litter boxes, scraping kitten poo off the wall, mopping, cleaning dishes, and changing over laundry. And yet there’s something about it that’s feeding my soul.

When COVID-19 really hit here and Ohio was on lock-down, that group of folks feeding and cleaning up after cats were the only people I would see in person every week apart from my wife. I’d never thought my 2 or 3 days at the office really did much for me, but without it I was feeling the strain of isolation. I didn’t know I needed small social interactions until the pandemic.

Week by week we would clean pounds and pounds of litter, and pause to chat. It was never spoken aloud that we all needed a bit more social interaction, but we would linger over the dishes and check-in with each other. We would have conversations about what the pandemic was like for each of us spread across the hallway. Those weeks that I was feeling the most alone, I looked forward to those shifts.

We’ve negotiated how we can see our friends now, usually outside and at a distance, and I’m feeling less of the strain of isolation. Those cats and the folks caring for those cats really helped carry me through those tough weeks. That routine felt like the one sure thing I could hang on to for a couple months. And I am tremendously grateful.

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My Reading List

A while back I blogged about what I was reading. I was methodically working my way through my second book list. There were aspects of that I enjoyed, the primary one being that it exposed me to books that I loved but would have never picked up left to my own devices. The aspect of I that I didn’t enjoy was feeling deprived of reading random titles that would spark my interest along the way.

After a few years of reading according to my own choices, I think I need the structure of the book list and the blog follow-up. The worst outcome of letting go of this process has been that I read less. I don’t know why it feels easier to me to pick up my phone and doom scroll through social media than it does to pick up a book. Doom scrolling doesn’t make me feel good, and it’s clearly not a good use of my time.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t enjoy being boxed in. But it’s becoming more clear to me that I need the walls of the box to bounce creatively off of. Without the walls I am aimless.

The only deviation I might make from my past process is that I might either craft my own book list, one that incorporates titles I am interested in along side selections from an editor’s book list. Or, I might allow myself to be reading at any one time a book from an editor’s list and a book of my own choosing. I am hoping that this modification will minimize what I’ve not liked about the experience while giving me the benefits I enjoy.

It feels frustrating to me that I need structure. My instincts are to feel hemmed in and anxious about it. My personal values are those of a wanderer, while my creativity and growth depend on rigor and dogged determination. And I resent it. But it works, so here we are.

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Crickets and Tree Frogs

I decided to try a post from my phone. I far prefer a keyboard to my thumbs, so I expect this will be short.

I am sitting on the deck watching the sun go down and listening to the creatures of the night start their concert. The crickets are so loud that it’s tough to hear someone speaking in a normal tone of voice more than 5 feet off. There’s noise from the road and an occasional neighborhood dog barking.

This is the sort of simple pleasure I have been craving lately. I don’t know what about the COVID-19 anxiety makes me more inclined to watch the sun rise and sun set. Maybe I enjoy the consistency of it, and feel reassured that other humans at other times have watched this same sun rise high in the sky and sink into pastels at night. It reminds me humans have lived through many difficult times. Everything changes and everything ends.