(#MorningFind)ing My Way Through Cincinnati

img_5460I love your morning finds, a friend wrote, from Nashville where she had moved weeks ago. Over the past month, I had also been in three cities, in conversations with three people who commented the same. I love your morning finds.

But what exactly was a morning find, and when did the photos snapped while I was bleary-eyed become a wide-eyed representation of this city?

Morning finds (#morningfinds) are my social media photos shared via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, when in early mornings, I sneak down dimly lit alleys (#alleynettie) sleuthing for  another place in time or discover countless sets of stairs leading to…..nowhere, but I take the steps anyhow while my husband might stand at the bottom and shake his head.

img_3168I seek out hidden mosaics or the faded old murals because the large-scale new ones like Rosemary and Neil get all the big media attention. Or I ponder placement of a mural or graffiti. The Artworks mural on Christ Church Cathedral, Education Not Violence, looks directly at the Queen City Tower, which for most, represents capitalism and privilege.fullsizerender-38

I have snapped photos of lost shoes (#cincylostsoles), too many to count, an obsession birthed in the boxes of Januzzi’s Shoes. I ask myself, “What did someone do last night that he or she went home without one shoe, or even two?” I have yet to try on any of them, but perhaps I will find answers when I do.

I would have research old social media postings to determine when random city shots became my “morning finds.” I had begun taking pictures around the city after our move two years ago, but only recently had the practice become ritual.

fullsizerender-41I approach the routine with a reverence for viewers, readers, and myself. I am not dependent on “likes”, the “tweets”, or the “hearts” for my self-esteem, but I am dependent on the framing of the pictures to nourish my curiosity, to fuel my creativity and to foster my connection – but to what?

On a recent Sunday morning after a monster walk around the city, my husband and I had stopped by Urbana Café for his cortado and my sparkling water (I had already had my one cup of caffeine limit). We had been frequenting Urbana Café for many months, especially in winter, following our lengthy treks to count the number of neighborhoods reachable by our aching feet.

fullsizerender-40Returning from the restroom, I overhead Elizabeth Walk, the baker, pose a question to Mark. “So what is it you like about Cincinnati?”

“To be honest,” Mark said, “I grew up here, but I like having access to the arts, its an easy city to get around….” His Shakespearean soliloquy took off from there.

“Why do you ask?” Mark questioned in return, as I made my way back to my stool.

“I’m reading this book This is Where You Belong. The Art and Science of Loving The Place You Live. One of the suggestions the author (Melody Warnick) makes is to ask people you know, what they like about the city and begin to model your own enthusiasm on their interests. That helps you appreciate the place as if you belong there.”

Customers began streaming in, anxious for his or her morning cortado or slow pour. Elizabeth’s question never made its way to me.

If so, I had my pat answer.

I came to love Cincinnati through a different set of eyes – and feet. A set originating in a small town in northern Ohio (Amherst) outside of Cleveland. While I lived in Cincinnati for a brief span in my twenties, I returned to the city also with a different heart, one still pining for the Pacific Northwest and the spirit I had left behind. I had to learn to love again, and not just another person, but in another city, in another way.

Every one has their lens. In particular, mine is loss. Thus, Cincinnati for me became a place I learned to admire through what had been forfeited, what had been obscured from my everyday view. I had to work through the river of fog to find it again.

fullsizerender-37When I moved into the city proper over two years ago, that too had been time of loss. I had relinquished a role that defined me for so long, a period of motherhood. My father had died two years prior. He had so desperately waited for us to finish this house so he too could live through us (The streetcar was also a great loss as it was something my father, the train aficionado, never saw to fruition). And of course, the complexity of the loss of my mother’s mind to dementia. Yet her condition became partially responsible for my reformulation of “finding the lost.”

At the lowest point of those losses was a sister who experienced a tragic accident which left her disabled. My big, beautiful sister, the original Queen City Queen, with whom I created many memories during my first stint as a Cincinnatian. Our sisterhood taught me the virtues of loving where you live. A part of me laced up sneakers in early mornings to find her and explore the city in a way she no longer can. I am always still trying to find her.

Everywhere. Loss.

I love all the pictures you post of OTR and the city. Reminds me of what is was like, what it could be like, another associate wrote.

I’m doing it for my own sanity, I respond.

The photos, the blogs are sticky notes with reminders to love everything directly in front of me. Based on my life experiences, morning finds could disappear downstream in the Ohio River tomorrow and wash away for good.

I would have shared all these statements with Elizabeth. I could have saved her the time and effort of reading the book. However, later, I too put my name on the library’s wait list for the book. I’m sure I’ll learn something intriguing about myself, about this city that I hadn’t intended to discover.

img_7696The morning finds are not just about things, or places. Morning finds are a pictorial representation of how I have plumbed the depths of joy, heartache and revelation. How I am still curating that part of myself, and the city, I don’t want to lose.



Author’s Note:

Beginning this Fall, I will be using this blog and other spaces to explore the 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, as Cincinnati prepares for its 2017 elections and what makes our neighborhoods lovable, walkable, the same and different.  I’ll be using the #52meandyou hashtag so, as Rosemary Clooney once sang, “C’mon along!”


A City Poised to Radiate

I have been at odds over how to best honor Friday’simg_7493 opening of Cincinnati’s streetcar line, the Cincinnati Bell Connector. I have been touched by the ghosts of those who rode the last line, conscious that someday, I will tell my children, I rode the line when it returned.

In the past few weeks, I have looked back on my writings, to when I testified before city council on what will forever be known as “the pause”, and found a wealth of words that could have only originated from a deep frustration and also, a profound love.

I discovered photos from the groundbreaking, held in 2012, when I had hustled down the highway to arrive in time to watch the removal of the first cobblestone in front of Memorial Hall.

These past months, I strolled alongside so many streetcars that I hardly noticed them whiz on by.

In all that time, the streetcar had, like the rest of the city, gotten under my skin, and I subconsciously crafted a poem, delivered whole and ready to roll.


The Rebirth of Connection

For months I have followed you
walked unsteady along your furrowed tracks
observed as you have taken your first ride
your wobbly first loop around one block
then the next
like watching my own learn to steer a bike.

I remember how I shuddered
when workers in green gave birth to you
how I railed against anyone
who railed against you.

Early morn, I heard you moan
then slowly I became tone-deaf knowing
that was the noise you were born to make.

At times, I have envied the attention
and the ever-changing hues
showered upon you,
always aware of those who tried to brand you
something you were not.

Now as days glide easily into night
and rays run out of dark bends in the alleys
there is new light.

You have set down a new trail
for the thinkers, the makers, and joiners
proving what once divided
no longer spills into our streets
and runs rough to our river.

Like the surprise of quintuplets
fertilizes the family tree
your five cars will forever
alter a city destined outwards.

AJW 9/7/2016