Saturday, September 27, 2014

Americanism trumps Conservatism this week in JeffCo schools

Kudos to those Jefferson County, Colorado, students who staged a walkout this week to protest to new conservative school board's attempt to to ram their "America is Perfect!" history curriculum down student throats. They are perhaps a bit more wise that we were, back in the 1950s and 1960s, when we blithely attended our "Americanism vs. Communism" classes. BTW, Americanism, whatever that is, won.

One thing I will tell those students: history education only begins when we get out of school. Experience will teach you that Americanism has many faces, some of them glorious and some quite ugly. I'm hoping that you will read widely, watch a lot of offbeat indie films, learn another language, travel all over, and talk to everyone you meet. People will tell you the darndest things, if only you lift your head from the iPhone and really listen. Family elders are a great source of information and bullshit. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. My suggestion is to check your elders' facts. If they tell you, as Bluto Blutarsky did so famously in "Animal House," that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, check it out. After all, fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

I'm impressed with the student activism I've seen out of this generation. Elders are supposed to spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the younger generations. I suppose I've done some of that. But those 20-somethings and 30-somethings that I've met in the arts world and progressive politics, well, they are amazing. Young artists, impatient with the entrenched art establishment, have gone to crowd-funding and other resources to meet their goals. The Wyoming Democrats employed a young undocumented UW graduate as its PR person until recently, when he decamped to Austin to help the Texas Democrats hone their social media outreach. When the Occupy Movement was in full flower, I met young people from throughout Wyoming who were fed up with the status quo and willing to take to the streets to do something about it. Just as those JeffCo students did this week.

Now here comes the advice -- you knew that was inevitable, right? Activism is not a short-term strategy. You have to be in it for the long haul. You will be disappointed. You will fail. At times, you will succeed. When you get to be 60-something, you can look back with satisfaction and say that you fought the good fight.

And that you are fighting it still.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kurt Caswell returns to LCCC Oct. 3-4 for the Literary Connection

The Literary Connection features a four-hour free workshop for writers on Friday, Oct. 3, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., in the LCCC Center for Conferences & Institutes in Cheyenne. Featured writers this year are Kurt Caswell, Ernie Cline and Danielle Pafunda. Great to see Kurt Caswell back at LCCC, where he taught English and writing classes back in the day. LCCC Theatre Director Jason Pasqua will serve as emcee.

Registration deadline has passed, but you can probably show up next Friday and find a seat. LCCC usually offers some fine treats and coffee.

Here's the schedule:

8 a.m.: Bookstore opens. Buy books.

8:30 a.m.: Registration and Breakfast. Lots of good munchies and coffee.

9:15-10:15 a.m.: Danielle Pafunda -- "Loss for Words: How Poetry Helps Us Say What We Mean"

10:30-11:30 a.m.: Kurt Caswell -- "Spiritual Mathematics: Reconsidering Structure in Your Writing"

11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. -- Ernest Cline -- "Writing W hat You Know By Writing About What You Love"

Saturday's events at LCCC Conferences & Institutes require a fee. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the program starts at 10 a.m. No breakfast, but lunch will be served.

Go to the Friday workshops. But the Saturday events are worth the cost. You get to schmooze with fellow writers and talk to the presenters. Buy books, too.

Get more info here: 307-778-1285

Monday, September 22, 2014

You can see the end of coal from the People's Climate March

More than 300,000 rally for the People's Climate March Sunday in NYC. Can you say, "Goodbye, coal?" I thought you could.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The rich are different --- they want to destroy Wyoming's public pension plan

Thanks to fellow prog-blogger Rodger McDaniel for his excellent column yesterday in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and later reprinted on his Blowing in the Wyoming Wind blog. The newspaper's op-ed editor paraphrased a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald for the headline: "The rich think differently." Fitzgerald's quote comes from his short story "The Rich Boy" published in 1926 in Redbook Magazine:
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and kcynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. ”
The esteemed author had already artfully described how the rich are different in his 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald also had a bad case of wealth-envy. Maybe that's a trait we all possess, thinking that we shouldn't criticize the wealthy too harshly lest we hit it big on the Powerball or strike oil in our backyard.

Most of us are content to labor hard and retire comfortably. That's my philosophy, passed down to me from my father the accountant and my mother the nurse and scores of immigrant ancestors who worked on the railroad and in the factory or on the farm.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a state employee of 23 years and expect to retire some time in the next decade.

In Wyoming, rich out-of-staters want to dismantle our state employee pension plan because, well, just because they can -- or think they can. Canadian Maureen "The Hater" Bader of the Wyoming Liberty Group recently wrote a venomous op-ed describing the state retirement plan as "the gold-plated promise of retirement security." Our pension plan is the envy of many, not because it is "gold-plated" but because it has been managed so efficiently that "30-year projections show that the plan is on a trajectory leading to assets totalling 114.7 percent of benefit costs," writes Rodger.

The Liberty Group was founded by Susan Gore, wealthy Texas heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune. This group is a member of the State Policy Network which is a driver of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the organization that hands canned right-wing legislation to Wyoming legislators so they can sabotage the state's workers.

Wyoming Liberty Group's attack on Wyoming's pension plan is nothing more than a cookie cutter provided to them by ALEC and the Policy Network. 
The rich indeed are different. They're out to destroy the middle class. They're doing a fine job. The elimination of the state's pension plan would go a long way to making us lackeys of the oligarchs represented by ALEC, the State Policy Network and the Wyoming Liberty Group.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day two of touristing on the high plains

At Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site: Mike Shay and Brian and Eileen Casey. Thousands of wagons passed this way during the heyday of the trails that cut through Wyoming. 
Why all of the sheriff’s cars at Hawk Springs Reservoir?

A Sunday drowning. But on Tuesday morning, I didn’t know that. We stopped at Hawk Springs to take in the reservoir and the bluffs beyond. We were touristing so stopped at almost every site we came across. When I travel Wyoming, I’m usually zipping to or from a destination and I need to be there at a certain time. Not just work trips but personal ones, too.

I used to be the guy who stopped at all in interesting things. What’s that marker? Where does that road go? Somewhere along the line, I lost that sense of adventure that drove my family crazy.

We stopped at Hawk Springs State Recreation Area because we were escorting my sister Eileen and her husband Brian on a Wyoming adventure. Can’t have an adventure unless you take the road less traveled. Our goal was Fort Laramie but we had all day, so why not stop?

It was quiet at Hawk Springs. Wind rattled the Cottonwood leaves. Some locals fished. We didn’t know it, but search parties scoured the reservoir for a drowned man. On Sunday, James “Jesse” Nelson of Torrington apparently dove into the reservoir to rescue another person who had fallen overboard. That person was rescued by another boat but Nelson was not.

Tragedies happen around us while we look the other way.

But on this day, we were roaming around southeast Wyoming. We stopped in the town of Hawk Springs to take some goofy photos. We met the proprietor of The Emporium, one of the few eating and drinking establishments along this stretch of state road. On this day was closed for a thorough cleaning after a busy summer catering to tourists and Sturgis-bound bikers. The owner invited us to return on the weekend to dine and watch a UW game.

Ever stopped at the Homesteader Museum along Torrington’s main drag? Me neither. You can’t miss it – it’s in the old train station across from the sugar plant. A big caboose sits adjacent to the museum. On the north side of the museum is an old homesteader cabin that once occupied good bottom land near Hawk Springs. It was moved when the dam was built and before the water rose high enough to drown people in 2014. A couple raised their three children in this windowless log cabin. Imagine. The museum grounds also included a one-room schoolhouse and a two-story rancher’s house, all moved from elsewhere in Goshen County. Settlement history in our part of the world may be recent, but there’s a lot of it.

Did you know that Jackson Hole is not the only hole in the state? This part of of Wyoming was historically referred to as "Goshen Hole?" A valley carved by rivers over thousands of years. You get the sense of "hole" when you top of rise of the highway and look down into the valley all the way to Nebraska. 

We picnicked at the city park in Lingle. Mothers and their pre-K kids trooped into the park, set up some soccer nets and commenced a game. One of the younger kids clambered around on the bandshell that was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1941-42, just as the U.S. was entering WWII and men in those WPA and CCC crews were putting on uniforms. Beautiful red-white-and-blue concrete bandshell that’s probably been the home for many Fourth of July concerts with fireworks to follow. Across the front of it is this: “Small but proud.”

Fort Laramie was our next stop. I’ve written about it before. This National Historic Site was a favorite destination when the kids were young and we were looking for a jaunt into history. This frontier fort along the North Platte and Laramie rivers was a thriving place for much of the 19th century. It closed when the frontier was declared closed in 1890, which is also the year of the Wounded Knee massacre. The fort’s buildings almost disappeared from disuse and scavenging by citizens from the town of Fort Laramie. But, as often happens, the government stepped in and saved it. Drat that damn gubment. Now southeast Wyoming has a beautiful historic site to add to many others and an economic generator. Lots of cars and campers in the parking lot on this Sept. 16 afternoon. A big bus, too, filled with tourists anxious to explore history and plug some Euros into the Wyoming economy.

Chris and I has never been to the historic sites celebrating the wagon ruts and Register Cliff. The Oregon Trails Ruts State Historic Site marks the place where thousands of wagons and handcarts cut a swath through the side of a hill on the Oregon/Mormon/California trails. When you stand in the ruts, you can imagine the hard slog that these pioneers experienced. The major traffic would have been in June as they planned to reach Independence Rock near Casper by the Fourth of July. They already had glimpsed Laramie Peak shimmering in the distance and wondered, “How are we going to get over that?” But the trail turned northwest from here, following the path of the river through the relatively flat county on the way to Fort Caspar.

There’s a marker at the wagon ruts that celebrates the site in language a bit flowery for my tastes. A photo of it is included. I wanted to rewrite it in simple language, something a little more Hemingwayesque. Maybe you’d like to take a crack at it.

The marker at Register Cliff was a bit more to my liking, as it actually mentions the natives of this area, who also happened to etch petroglyphs into this site. Their signatures were destroyed by a sea of immigrants, a metaphor for what happened to their tribes as the wagons rolled West.   

"Wagon wheels cut solid rock, carving a memorial to Empire Builders." Not sure when this sign was installed but it could use a few updates.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Day one of touristing on the high plains

Hanging out at Esther Hobart Morris's statue at the Wyoming State Capitol with Brian and Eileen Casey.
My sister Eileen and her husband, Brian Casey, visited us this week in Cheyenne. They live in Orlando, Florida, and had never been to Wyoming. Eileen is a history buff and Brian likes trains. I told them, “You’ve come to the right place.”

Visitors from distant climes help me focus on the clime I’m in. I’ve lived in Cheyenne 23 years but have not seen everything there is to see. A human trait, to take for granted the place where you live.

On Monday, their first day in town, Eileen, Brian, my wife Chris and I toured Cheyenne. We exploited the state capitol building, which is in the beginning of a $250 million renovation. I saw Leslie in the Governor’s office and went in to say hi. She asked if we wanted to see the inner office, the place where Gov. Mead signs bills, and we said yes. She let Eileen and Brian sit in the Gov’s chair and I took photos. We wondered if we could walk into the Florida governor’s office, sit in his chair and take photos. Probably not. We toured the legislative chambers and viewed the art. I took time to actually view the art on the walls instead of just passing by. On the House side, the portrait of the 1913 group had a tear in the middle. The tear is about the width of a human head, which is due to the fact that one disgruntled legislator plucked the portrait off the wall and bashed it over the head of a colleague. Those are the kind of details that make history come alive.

We next toured the state museum. I’ve been in there a hundred times. But on this, the 101st visit, I saw things I didn’t know were there. It is a gift to have fresh eyes alight on a thing and say “I didn’t know that.” That’s what museums are all about, right? We ate lunch at the historic Albany and then toured the Depot Museum. Trains created Cheyenne. The magnificent depot was created in view of the State Capitol to remind legislators to not forget what side their bread was buttered on. These days, legislators don’t have a view of the Powder River Basin coal fields, but that lesson has a prominent place in their memory.

You can see the coal trains from the second-floor museum viewing room. It’s a busy rail yard, which delighted Brian almost as much as the big model train in the next room. You’re in choo-choo country, pardner!

Time flies when you’re touristing. We walked around the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, a place that I love. The flowers are in their last gasp of beauty before the frosts arrive and the snow falls. The folks at the gardens did a great job of resurrecting the flower beds after our June and July hailstorms. I showed off the architectural plans of the new building. I’m very proud of it, as I was one of the forward-thinking voters who approved it during the election of 2012. Without Chris and I and thousands of others, we wouldn’t be creating a city for our children and grandchildren. Take a bow, ya’ll.

We wrapped up the day with a barbecue at our house. A fitting end to a fine, late-summer day in the high prairie.

To be continued….

So you want to write a novel?

My friend Joanne Kennedy over at Joanne Kennedy Books on Facebook is teaming up with two other Cheyenne fiction writers for this:
Have you always wanted to write a novel? Laramie County Library is presenting Novel Writing University every Tuesday night for six weeks, beginning September 23. Classes will cover all elements of fiction writing, from getting started to writing dialogue, from characterization to resonant endings. Submitting to agents and editors will also be covered, along with self-publishing and marketing. Whether you're a beginner or a more experienced writer, these classes will help you improve your craft and understand the steps to publication. The class will be taught by multi-published authors Joanne Kennedy, Amanda Cabot, and Mary Gillgannon. Join us!
Joanne and Mary are my former critique partners at the Cheyenne Area Writers Group (CAWG). They are terrific teachers and know their way around a novel -- short stories, too, as I can testify. I've seen Amanda in action at several writing conferences, including the annual WWInc gathering. They all are kind and meticulous, a winning combination. Get more information at the Laramie County Public Library web site.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Join the "Shatter the Silence" walk Sept. 10 in Cheyenne

Join Stop Suicide Cheyenne, the VA Center, Prevention Management Organization, and Grace for 2 Brothers for the World Suicide Prevention Day Silent Walk on Wednesday September 10th. This event begins at 11:45 a.m. at the Depot Plaza in Cheyenne with keynote speakers to talk about suicide prevention. A silent walk will take place up Capitol Avenue to the Capitol Steps where there will be recognition of those lost to suicide.