True West

When I lived on the Oregon Coast (no, this is NOT another Oregon story), my first leanings of the morning were to beat the rest of the beach walkers out to the rugged sands.

I wanted my tracks to be first along the watery streamlets that led back into the ocean. I wanted my view of the sunrise over the Three Arch Rocks to be one no one had witnessed before. And, I wanted to synch my tone of the day to the crash of the waves as they swallowed the sands, then slowly returned the specks to their rightful place. And when those three elements fell into place, I knew I was home.

And so it is, here, in the city, a half-block from Washington Park. Fall settled in last night, with the splash of rain, and as I walk the dog towards the park early dawn, the emptiness both startles and excites me.

Do I feel safe, I am often asked. And I answer, Of course. Why would I be here, if I didn’t feel safe?

photo copy 2And more so, Do I feel at home?

I enter behind the main stage of the park, for the past week obscured by towering white tents. I am still meaning to speak to management about the endless days of white tents that many functions produce, limiting the time to enjoy the park, as, well, just a park. But, for the park to last, I understand management must raise money, to replace grass, to tend to the buds in early spring, to maintain the sprayground for the countless youngsters who will soon be approaching city and school buses, for the days of recess and lunch, and possibly some learning too.

I stand, out in the middle of the oval, looking upon Music Hall to the west, and realize, that Music Hall has become my Three Arch Rocks. My beacon, my guide. I see the purplish blush of morning slowly creeping up over the gables. I turn clockwise and counter, and break into a broad smile. I am alone in the park this morning to take in the heralding of the morning at my back, over centuries of Italianate homes, and the hill of corporate quarters.

I have landed before park maintenance sporting their bright yellow polos. I have arrived before the men of City Gospel Mission make their way to a bench in the park. I have disembarked before the dog walkers, runners, and H. who sits on his stoop. I have heard my own footsteps before the beeps of the backhoes and clanging of constructions workers on the streetcar line destroy the silence. I will, in later years, cherish the clang, clang of the streetcar over the construction clamor.

My son tells me I take too many pictures of Music Hall. He has forgotten about my stores of Three Arch Rocks photos, at sunrise and sunset. Many of them I sent back home to parents, via snail mail. Many I placed in Davis’ baby book – there are more photos of the rocks, than of Davis. Many simply disappeared.

But I always knew, if I witnessed those rocks and their rise, their battering, I too could withstand the torrents of life that would later be thrown my way.

And while Over-the-Rhine and Washington Park are not quite the ocean and the coast, they have become my inspiration in the morning. Many may have referred to identifying such beacons as one’s True North. But for me, my touchpoints were True West.

Perhaps that was imprinted upon me, those days on the coast, where the wind, the sun (we were on a cliffside) and the rain always came from the West. Or even earlier, chasing the sunsets over Lake Erie, because as kids were never up early enough to catch it rise.

Or maybe some of us are born with their internal compass pointing west, while others are born with a compass pointing towards the North Pole, east, south, or no direction at all.

For me, early morning, I am in an enviable position to watch the many faces of Music Hall, as she yawns and wakes to the day. I witness the homeless person squirm in his bed of concrete as he hears the jingles of the dog collar. I achieve peace through synchronizing my day to the ringing of the church bells, even if I note the bells are minutes off Apple time.

How lucky that I have found another of my life’s True West.


* Obviously, not one of my better photos, but I was too busy enjoying the morning to care!



Walk the “Work”

photo copy“You gotta walk it out,” Steve said, speaking of his path towards God, in his ministry to others. “That’s what I tell all my people.”

Mark and I had encountered Steve at the park.

“I hang out at the north end. Mostly in the afternoons. It’s a little quieter here. More pleasant views,” he said, as he swept his arms up towards Music Hall.

Mark said, “Yeah I see you a lot,” and he replied, “I see you too,” making note of Mark’s dayglo orange shirt.

“I guess I don’t cuz I have the early shift, walking the dog.” We all laughed.

Steve was one of the many whose daily path also included spending the night at the City Gospel Mission.

He had no complaints for the life he was leading. And called himself, “one of them” who used to go around and cause trouble.

Daily, I watched as men, some younger, some older, pull their roll away suitcases down the street, or heave a few gym bags over their shoulder. They stake out their park bench. Pull out a Bible. Sit and watch the sun come up.

Each day. Every. Day.

That is their work.

In the same way, an associate of ours who works for 3CDC encounters his work to shore up old buildings. To recreate something from a structure someone built hundreds of years ago. To find money to do the same. To listen to my complaints about the delivery trucks which block the alley.

Daily, he must walk past, as I do, dozens of buildings in need of a purpose. We all see buildings in need of a home.

But I often wondered how he does not get discouraged from his work.

So work is on my mind. On my walks with Enzo, I am accompanied by the employees moving towards Kroger’s headquarters. Or, way over on Eighth Street, I stride past an employee of the Westin (nametag) with her uniform on who comments on my bright shoes.

Then, I go home to work.

But lately, it hasn’t felt like work. It hasn’t felt like much of anything at all. When my previous years were spent teaching / facilitating writing classes across the city, the most recent months were lost in the landslide of graduations, moves and adjustments.

And in the midst of that, a brave friend offered to read and critique my manuscript. One I have been at, for 18 months. One on its third draft.

As I delve further into my revisions, I am awed by her work. Not just her editor’s eye and mind, but that she took a number two pencil to jot down ideas in margins. That she saw more in me than I can see now, that I am cringing at some of my grave plot and grammatical errors.

And I get frustrated when I read too far ahead in the suggested revision, knowing there is so much more ahead of me.

And what work that is.

Kroger employees might envy me, if they knew I could work in my pj’s, but the fact is, I don’t. I take this seriously. I spend two to three hours a day at it. While also writing these posts, and a myriad of other writing themes that come to mind, and cloud my life.  I am motivated to work by those around me.

Streetcar contractors are at work before 7 a.m. I hear the beeps of their backhoes. The park employees trim bushes before the sun comes up. A myriad of neighbors walk their dog, before heading to work. H., who holds court on the corner, shows up every morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and on a clear night, he sits and has a view of Music Hall to send him off to a night delighted. And D. on the other corner, well, he and I are working on our Bengals-Browns relationship. I am losing after Week One.

Moving around words on a page is also work. Thinking about how I want a character to speak, dress, act. What are their motivations. That is work. Creating one’s own schedule, and having the discipline to stick with it? Work.

So I go back to Steve’s words. “You gotta walk it out.” That is his work. Some have to dig it out, hammer it out. Our contacts at 3CDC have to do plenty more than that.

So, I’m gonna “walk it out.” That is the work. Taking that step. Then the next. One chapter, half a chapter, one paragraph, a single word.

* Pictured above: The old State Theatre.


A Beaux Arts style structure which was given an Art Moderne remodel in the 1940’s stood about two blocks from the earlier Casino Theater (1913) by the same architects, Rapp, Zettle and Rapp of Cincinnati and financed by the Provident Bank. It was an early venue of I. Frankel of Cleveland who had a small string of theatres in the Cincinnati area.

It opened as the Metropolitan Theater in 1915 and became the property of the Goldman family in 1944 when the name was change to the State Theater. In 1984 it was renamed Allison’s West End Cinema. The theater had no balcony, but did present vaudeville on its 20 foot deep stage in addition to silent and later sound flicks. The theater was also second-run. Allison’s West End Cinema closed in 1989. It is the home of the Lighthouse Ministries church today.


8/21/14 1:19 PM