Love Letter to Cincinnati (#1)

Kevin Pogo Curtis
by Kevin Pogo Curtis

I’ve visited New York City more times than I care to remember—always for work. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes not. But I always know for sure: I’m not part of those who live and work in that city.

Living in Cincinnati these past 14 years means I’m invisible in most publishing industry circles—not so unlike the company I once worked at, deemed “The Midwest Publishing Empire” by my first boss. At first I thought the moniker was a charming endearment. Later I realized it was a backhanded compliment.

But my life as a Midwesterner has made me sympathetic to writers outside the NYC publishing gates, who wonder why they can’t break in. It made me a good publisher for Writer’s Digest … that plus my own natural tendency to encourage people.

It was never my intention to remain in the Midwest for as long as I have. In fact, I hated Cincinnati for nearly a decade, and couldn’t think of anything worse than being from Indiana and living not more than a few hundred miles from the place where I was born. It’s a peculiar disease for us Americans, to think it a failure not to move away from what we know. As a twentysomething, I wanted nothing more than to live in Europe—where I’d stayed 6 months during a study abroad—and to be done with the uncultured and ignorant USA.

It’s like all young people to think this way—to imagine that the place where we come from is stupid and beneath everything else. Eventually you realize that all places are rather the same. Or, people are the same. You just find the right circles where you can be accepted or make a difference. The rest is just details.

It took a long time to accept that I’m a Midwesterner at heart. I want to be friendly and helpful. I’m not eager to talk about myself. I prefer a laid-back, unpretentious lifestyle. While these are not qualities unique to the Midwest, I don’t reliably encounter those environments elsewhere.

Cincinnati has been an unintentional home for me. I never meant to stay here for long, and at first I was always in an apartment or neighborhood that I partially despised.

Eventually I corrected that. I have an apartment I consider the happiest place on earth, where I wake up in the morning and feel happy to exist in such a beautiful room, with wood rafters, tall windows, and cool air silence, the city alive in the distance.

At my lowest points, Cincinnati has provided a cure in its core infrastructure. I drive out to Interstate 71 or 75, where I can go north or south, and drive in a continuous loop, using the 275 city bypass, or a quick 4-lane lateral for shorter periods of despair.

I drive circles around the city for calm, for familiarity, to remember I’ve had bad times before, and always found a better time after.

It used to be that when I’d drive into the city on 74 East, or on 71/75 North, there was nothing worse than realizing I had come home to Cincinnati. But after I overcame the melodrama of youth (and the desire to throw away everything I knew—bad only because it was familiar), then greeting the city from 74 (the wooded hills) or 71/75 (the cut in the hill & the river) became magical.

A couple years ago, for the first time, I bought original artwork from a Cincinnati artist who was producing a variety of bridge images. They all could easily be interpreted as Cincinnati bridges over the Ohio River, but were not clearly symbolized as such. Yet in my heart, these bridges represent the ones I’ve crossed now hundreds of times while thinking about what has been, what is, and what will be. They remind me of transition—a period of growing up.

Cincinnati is currently undergoing its own “growing up”—a renaissance in its historic residential quarter, Over the Rhine, where I now live. It is gorgeous and mostly undiscovered by the greater public. Even the people who’ve lived in Cincinnati all their lives don’t clearly recognize what’s happening. Soon, the world will recognize it. Only I will have moved onto another place …

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