Just another day at the non-office

I’ve been working from home (mostly) for the past 18 months. When we first were sent packing by the pandemic, back in March of 2020, I couldn’t wait to get back to the normalcy of an office, and the collegiality of a shared space.

Now I’m a bit more ambivalent. It’s kinda nice to be able to walk 10 steps and take 30 seconds to start another load of laundry. It’s great to be able to start dinner a bit sooner, instead of feeling like I’m participating in a “Chopped” TV show “quick fire” challenge. The hour-plus I used to spend on the bus is an hour I can spend in the comfort of my own home. And now I can listen to music all day without having to wear headphones.

Yes, I miss my work pals. And Zoom is a poor substitute for face-to-face. But the work-from-home genie is out of the bottle, and companies need to realize that, instead of clinging to the old ways.

All their stories are songs… or vice versa

My “listening room” is the Little Miami River. I paddle downstream and listen to some new tunes on a $20 waterproof speaker that attaches to my kayak via a suction cup — with a carabiner clip as a backup.

The river is peaceful, and it’s a great place to really focus on the lyrics. This past weekend, I put my ears on a couple of albums that hit the high water mark (see what we did there?) for eloquence and poignance.

James McMurtry’s new release The Horses and the Hounds is brilliant from start to finish. James is the son of novelist Larry McMurtry, and clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the storytelling tree. Check out “Canola Fields” or “Operation Never Mind” or “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call” for fine examples of a good yarn.

Next up on my not-so-rockin’ river excursion was Home Video, the third album from 26-year-old singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus. She really knows how to capture a sense of time and place with her attention to detail and her emotionally moving lyrics. Listen to “VBS” or “Thumbs” or “Brando” and try not to get goose bumps.

Yes, sometimes I don’t play any music and enjoy the natural symphony. But when I want to spend some quality time with an album, the river is my favorite spot for streaming (see what we did there?).

Not my river!

Keep reaching for the stars

I grew up in the Space Race era, when going to the moon was cool.

I also grew up listening to American Top 40 every weekend, and Casey Kasem always told me to keep reaching for the stars.

At the risk of turning into “Old Man Yells at Cloud” I’ll say that kids these days don’t seem to have the same fascination with outer space.

Perhaps that’s because the Space Race has turned into a Billionaires Ego Trip.

But the Cincinnati Public Library is trying to get kids’ heads in the clouds again. Check out this excerpt from an article by Emily DeLetter in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have partnered with Dean Regas, an astronomer with the Cincinnati Observatory, to offer telescopes for free to library patrons. 

The library has five Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch astronomical telescopes available for checkout at branches around the city. Each telescope can be reserved for 21 days, and comes with two eye pieces, an Orion EZ Finder II Reflex Sight, a star chart and two of  Regas’ books—”100 Things to See in the Night Sky” and “Facts from Space!”— to guide viewers through their star-viewing experience.

I think it’s really cool that the library is doing this. Most kids — and adults — spend way too much time with their heads down, staring at their phones. Looking up can reveal whole new worlds – literally and figuratively.

Speaking of telescopes, one plays a prominent role in an excellent short story by John Young, who lives in Cincinnati.

From John Young’s “A Membrook Man”

The story appears in his book Fire in the Field and Other Stories, which is a collection of 16 of his short stories, all of which are thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended – check it out… and maybe check out a telescope while you’re at it.

Take Me to the River

I’ve done quite a bit of reading over the past 16 months (thanks pandemic!), but no book has moved me more than this one:

I’m late to the game. The book came out in 2019. Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017, at the age of 60. But better late than never, right?

One Long River of Song is a collection of essays – some happy, some heartbreaking… and all with a spiritual sense of wonder about the world we inhabit.

“Brian Doyle lived the pleasure of bearing daily witness to the glories hidden in people, places and creatures of little or no size or renown, and brought inimitably playful or soaring or aching or heartfelt language to his tellings.”

David James Duncan in the introduction to One Long River of Song

Some books are enjoyable on a surface level but soon forgotten. This one soaks into your skin and burrows into your heart and soul. Simple gorgeous prose.

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter put this book on my radar. If you haven’t already read it, do so now and thank me (and Austin) later.

Art for Art’s Sake

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut, in his book A Man Without a Country

Getting Hip to Hops

Not that I need any more notoriety — this blog has thousands hundreds tens a few loyal readers — but I managed to get a byline in the April edition of Cincinnati Magazine by writing the text to accompany some really cool photos (by Aaron M. Conway) of a local farm that grows hops.

You can check out the full online version here.

The editor of Cincinnati Magazine, John Fox, is an old friend of mine. When I was working at an alternative music station, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, and the station and the paper would collaborate, cross-pollinate, and co-promote events often due to the large overlap in audiences. John will throw me a magazine assignment every now and then – usually something fairly straightforward and not too time-consuming. I enjoy the challenge, and I always wind up learning something new while doing research and interviews. For the hops farm piece, I got to interview one of the growers and connect with brewers at several local breweries… it’s a really tight-knit community and it was cool to witness the spirit of collaboration among them. I also learned quite a bit about the process of growing hops, and I found it quite fascinating.

“The more you know…”

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now done four pieces for Cincinnati Magazine over the past couple of years, and two of them have been beer-centric. I think I’m being typecast. Then again, if the shoe beer mug fits…

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