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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

January 24, 2024

It’s gray, rainy, and 51F in Cincinnati, the perfect winter day. It feels like a treat after last week’s single digits. Jeb and I are basking in the heat of the American Sign Museum on Monmouth St in Camp Washington, courtesy of the CHPL Discovery Pass.

This time of year is hard. Our place on the planet tells our bodies to slow, to rest. It’s cold and dark. We will never see fresh food again. We crave a cuddle in a warm dark place where we dream of sun.

The world tells us we have no time to waste, that we must get on with our resolutions to be new and better, to pay our taxes, to start our new deductibles, to reserve our vacations now, and to strive and work harder with our clean slate.

What do we want? How do we (I) deal with demands on my time, on my body, on my attention? I lament, and ask, and wish until I’m miserable.

Show us a sign

Show me a sign

Provide me a way.

There are literal signs around me right this second, and I have no idea which one to follow. In the bible, there are many stories of divination to learn The Way. To my surprise, casting lots is sanctioned. I’m not the first to long for a clear and easy path. The way to find the path these days is discernment. Discernment is an art and a science.

Science is straightforward.

·        Define the question.

·        What are options that answer the question.

·        Try each one on until one seems to feel right.

·        Act as if I have chosen it and regard the world.

·        Make the choice and commit for a year.

The Art is harder.

·        The art is to avoid false signs, those coincidences and serendipities when a song comes on or a meme pops up that bend to a particular view that seems perfect.

·        The art is to keep your mind on your intentional path and be consistent and brave.

·        The art is to find a community of people to hold space. People who will encourage and cheer and feedback. Humble, grateful, curious people who can hear and ask questions. Discernment needs a community.

When I’ve made the mistake of asking someone who can’t hear me for help during discernment, my pride snaps to attention. I know I can win them over and persuade them. It’s been hard to see how strong my pride is, to know that I’m probably on the right path and that person is not the one to help me on it. I’ve been working to let that pride go. It’s hard to let go! Pride is the essence of competition. Winning is easy to divert from being a beloved child of God, walking along The Way to be The Best One living My Best Life.

January reminds me to listen to my body, to reach out to my loves, to gather and reserve strength, to find comfort and solace, and check if what I chose last year still works now. I remind myself that I’m not alone, regardless of how much I try to retreat to the comfort of my cliff side hiding place and nestle down in bubble wrap.

I can’t trust the signs around me. They urge me to claim to be better than other people, revel in my accomplishments, and buy something I don’t need.

I can trust myself.

I can listen to the still small voice speaking to me, urging me on.

I can love myself, friends, family, and strangers, just as we are.

I can reframe to see the signs around me saying that the power of the present is here.

I can look around at the fullness of my life and be joyful.

I can learn and grow and listen and be present and lean in to using my gifts.

I appreciate this beautiful terrible world that none of us will survive.

Provide us a sign? Let’s stop to cast lots and look at the map…

You are here.

It’s too much, not enough, and just right.

Cheers to this day! 

Essay and photos by Anne Brack

Illustration by Jeb Brack

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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

On Wednesday, January 6, rioters or insurrectionists or terrorists or protesters or patriots (depending on your viewpoint) made their way into the Capitol and disrupted the counting of electoral votes to certify the election of Joe Biden. It was shocking or terrifying or exciting or triumphant (again depending on your viewpoint). It’s that viewpoint I want to talk about.

There are few things in this world that I feel strongly enough about that I would leave my house and join a crowd (I hate crowds) to shout and cheer and walk while shouting and cheering. I did it for the 2017 Women’s March; I went to smaller rallies in support of BLM in the summer of 2020. There are even fewer things that would make me angry enough to attack cops, break windows, set fires, or steal stuff, and I hate seeing that happen for any cause…but then, I’m a wealthy middle aged white male, so.


If I genuinely believed…if there was proof that absolutely convinced me…if it was patently obvious that my vote, and the votes of people who thought the way I did, were being thrown out or discounted en masse, or that the other side had engaged in a massive campaign to falsify election results? That would make me mad enough to march. I would get my ass out of my chair and go wherever I thought it would do some good to show up. I would shout angrily, I would march to the Capitol, I would hold signs. I would say that such injustice and oppression deserved the full opposition of the populace. (And then, at the end of the day, I would go home, because I’m peaceful at heart and afraid of being in trouble.)

But I’m sure if I was mad enough to protest, there would be others like me who were even angrier and prepared to do more than just shout. I’m sure there would be people ready to break into government buildings and private businesses and tear things apart. I’m sure, if our votes were taken away (say, by a crowd of government-backed thugs who overturned the election) that there would be people on my side who would try to burn things down, and I would probably not be too sad that they had done so. I might even defend them, or look for mitigating circumstances, or point out that there were outside agitators involved. I did that for the BLM protests. Hell, I’d be proud of the fact that we had upset the system so much, even if it wasn’t my actions that did it.

So in that respect, I can understand the motives of the mob who stormed the Capitol and the protesters and apologists who are justifying it. If the positions were reversed, I’d be saying much the same things, and the other side would be condemning everything. The breakdown comes from that condition:

“If I genuinely believed…if there was proof…if it was patently obvious…”

I genuinely believe, and there is so much proof, that it is patently obvious that Black people, brown people, indigenous people are systemically and systematically marginalized, oppressed, and harmed in this country. That women are treated worse than men. That corporate welfare masquerading as capitalism is failing the people of this country. And that the diminishment of anyone by the system also diminishes me, so it is in my interests to help bring about change. I recognize that there are those who do not accept the evidence as proof, and that to them it is not obvious at all, and therefore extreme actions are unjustified and unjustifiable.

And that’s where I am about the Capitol uprising.

I reject the “evidence” of the protesters that the election was stolen, because there isn’t any. There is accusation, and rhetoric, and falsehoods, but no evidence.

Instead I accept the findings of the courts that heard their complaints, evaluated their “evidence,” and dismissed the cases. I accept the findings of the elections officials in the contested states, who recounted and evaluated the votes in accordance with the rules, and certified their votes as genuine. I accept the decision of the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the lawsuits put to them because there was no standing or merit to them. In the face of these findings I can only conclude that the protests are unjustified. They could almost have been justifiable, but they are not.

What makes them unjustifiable is source and the object of the protests. The source is not some groundswell from the people, long oppressed by an unfair system. Rather, the source is none other than the President himself, who for four years (and more) stoked and encouraged fears and prejudices and hatred with outright lies, eventually calling for them to revolt. And the object is to oppress others, to take away the rights and voices of Americans, to set at nothing the same Constitution that protects their very right to protest. It is unjustifiable in light of the motives of the protests: not to effect change, but to overthrow the will of the American people in favor of an autocratic, white-supremacist system and leader, a system that does not seek to protect anyone’s rights, but rather to keep others from securing them.

Unjustified, and unjustifiable.

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  • Writer's pictureJeb Brack

Fiasco, train wreck, dumpster fire, shitshow. These are the words that have come to define 2020, and they're not wrong. It's been a terrible year, and when it ends tonight I'll be glad to see it go.

But yesterday? Yesterday was a good day.

I know it sounds weird, to have a good day in the midst of this horrible year, which is why I need to make note of it, so that I don't ever forget that good days happen. So here's what made it a good day:

  1. LEGO Day Camp. I didn't want to do this. It's not why I went to work at CMC. But the Museum kept me on after letting go many awesome people, so if they need help to make something happen, I'll step up. And you know what? Building LEGO with a bunch of enthusiastic kids turned out to be pretty damned fun.

  2. Seeing My Own Art. One of the campers' parents recognized me on the Zoom call, because I drew a portrait of their house years ago. The camper even took her computer to show it to the group. That was unexpected and gratifying.

  3. Seeing My Team. Due to budget cuts, I haven't seen the Museum Experience team much in the last few weeks, which was one of the things that made the job fun. Last week, on the last day before Christmas, I left a dark, silent, empty office, with no one to say goodbye to, and it broke my heart. Yesterday, I made a point to find the ME team as they wrapped up their day, and we wished each other Happy New Year. I left feeling much happier.

  4. Compliments On My Work. During this time, my boss told me I'd been nominated for a Butler-Bain Award, a sort of "Employee of the Month" recognition. I never thought that would happen, so it was flattering to know that people liked the work I was doing, whether I receive it or not.

  5. The Drive Home. Spring Grove Avenue to Winton Road to North Bend Rd. to Caldwell is a cool drive, winding through the industrial West Side, up the hill past the cemetery, then down a hill overlooking the Mill Creek Valley. Even in the soft, misty rain yesterday, it was lovely to see.

  6. ART SUPPLIES!! I got home to find a package from Blick Art waiting for me. Oh boy oh boy!

  7. Making Dinner With Anne. I grilled up cheesesteak subs while Anne made zucchini fries, all while favorite tunes (NOT Christmas music) kept me dancing and singing. Also:

  8. Beer.

  9. Laughs With the Kids at Dinner. I don't even remember the jokes, but my family is pretty funny.

  10. The Expanse. Sat down to watch a couple episodes of one of our favorite sci fi shows while sipping...

  11. Woodford Reserve Double-Oaked Bourbon. From my new Jedi Order highball glass.

  12. Email. As I settled down to read before bed, I received an email that I plan to keep forever. It reads:


I'm James Logue, Emily Rose's dad. I wanted to tell you how much my wife and I enjoyed

the two pieces you did for her.

My wife has been a royal watcher for years and we have toured Buckingham Palace. Your

rendering was terrific.

And when Em was growing up I really enjoyed taking her to baseball games. I don't mind

telling you when I saw the painting of the two of us at PNC Park I busted out crying. It is so wonderful.

You are an artist with uncommon talent and we are grateful for your works and will

cherish them forever.

Thank you

James Logue"

(EDIT: Here are the paintings I created for them.)

How great is that?

Now any of these things by themselves would be

fun, or pleasant, or enjoyable, if not terribly remarkable. But all of these happened on the same day, on the next to last day of the worst year in recent memory. And so now I have logged them so I can recall that even in the darkest times, a good day can happen.

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