Monday, April 06, 2015

"I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night..."

The first time I heard Joe Hill's name was during the 1970 "Woodstock" movie. Joan Baez, at night, fog swirling around, singing about this man who I'd never heard of.
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he. 
"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
"They shot you Joe" says I. "
Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die."
Says Joe "I didn't die" 
Who is Joe Hill? Who are the Copper Bosses?

As a 20-year-old, I had to look them up. No Internet in 1970. Throughout my K-12 education, nobody ever mentioned Joe Hill, not even in Colorado, Utah's neighbor. The library was my only choice. Books! Joe Hill was a union organizer. Copper bosses? Fat cats who crushed the union members. In Joe Hill's case, he was executed by a Utah firing squad. 

Nobody celebrates the Copper Bosses, although they undoubtedly have some buildings named after them. Nobody knows the names of the men on the firing squad.

But we do remember Joe Hill, thanks to songwriters and singers and union activists. Joan Baez. Pete Seeger. Woody Guthrie. The Weavers. Utah Phillips. The Wobblies. 

The 100th anniversary of Joe Hill's murder will be marked this summer at the Joe Hill centennial celebration in Salt Lake City. Joe might not have envisioned this, but the event is being promoted and funded through a Kickstarter project. 

Take a look at the Kickstarter video. It includes singer-songwriter Kate McLeod from Utah. I had the pleasure of meeting Kate in at arts events in Jackson Hole a few years ago. She is amazing. The whole event is amazing. Crowd-fund it and attend it on Sept. 5. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loveland getting national attention for its creative placemaking projects

Chris poses with my new car as train rumbles by the Loveland Feed & Grain Building, which is being transformed into the Art @ The Feed and Grain facility. You can't see it in this pic but the new ArtsSpace live/work spaces for artists are being built on the other side of the Feed and Grain.  
SF Gate in San Francisco carried a neat article Saturday about the ArtSpace project in Loveland, located an hour south of Cheyenne on I-25. Loveland is a one-time farming community and jumping-off point to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The city is known for two things: it amazing array of outdoor sculpture and its dueling summer sculpture shows; Valentine's Day postal cancellations (LOVE-land -- get it?). Loveland once was home to my aunt and grandfather. Back in the eighties, my grandfather used to grabbed his cane and tottered over to the old downtown coffee shop where he used to entertain the waitresses with old war stories. My aunt was a bit concerned that Grandpa would get run over on his morning walks. But Loveland was pretty sleepy back then. As long as he didn't wander over to Eisenhower Blvd./U.S. Hwy. 34, where a steady stream of behemoth motor homes made a beeline for the national park. Grandpa lived to a ripe old age, still spinning his tales to anyone who would listen at the Denver V.A. Hospital.

Thirty years later, Loveland is a different place. The old feed and grain building along the railroad tracks is being renovated into an arts center. Next door, live-work spaces for 30 artists are under construction. The projects are being sponsored by ArtSpace of Minneapolis, the country's lone non-profit property developer. Read more about it here and here. Cheyenne is also trying to get an ArtSpace project off the ground. Read about it here -- and, if you live within 50 miles of Cheyenne, take the survey.

Chris and I visited downtown Loveland two Saturdays ago. We were on our way back from a car-buying trip to Denver. Viewed the nifty ArtSpace project on the edge of a revitalizing downtown. We dropped in on the Loveland Creatorspace on the other side of the tracks from the feed and grain. Place was humming with young people working Cad-Cam computers and 3-D printers. A machinist was making parts for some gizmo. A guy my age tutored students. Such a neat place. Creativity comes in so many forms.

Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition holds elections March 30

This invitation comes from the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition:
Greetings fellow Democrats. 
If you were unhappy with the 63rd Legislature and what they did or didn't do, let's start our call to action now by attending the next LCDGC meeting on Monday, March 30, 6-8:30 p.m., in the Laramie County Public Library Rainbow Room.
Sign up or renew membership. We'll have some hors d' oeuvres and refreshments. The proposed slate of officers is as follows: Kathleen Petersen, President; Ken Trowbridge, Vice-president; Cherry Kildow, Secretary and Joe Corrigan, Treasurer. These are the suggested names, but we will be calling for nominations from the floor also. 
You must be a member of the Laramie County Democratic Grassroots Coalition to vote, so you can fill out a membership form on Monday night.
Get more info here

See you there. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring 2015 is deceptively pleasant

Ah, spring.

In Wyoming, that usually means snow and wind and cold. March and April are our snowiest months. Usually.

This year, the snow spigot shut off early. Not sure if this is an El Nino or La Nina year, but whatever it is, the storms went to the south and then moved on to hammer Boston and points east.

Today is Saturday, March 28. First day of spring break for local school kids. Trips to ski areas, or those that are still operating. Jaunts to see grandma in Sun City. College kids head to the beaches. Those that stick around, will get sunny skies and 70-degree temps, at least they will today. My neighbor is hammering on something. I can hear it because my windows are wide open. Harleys rumble in the distance. But I've been seeing the local bikers on the roads since January. Their bikes didn't get much of a winter break this year.

This balmy weather has a dark side. If it's dry now, it will be really dry come July. That means wildland fires. A huge grass fire scorched property around Chugwater earlier in the week. Cheyenne experience a grassland fire a month ago that crept to within sparking distance of our newest high school.

Wyoming had a similar dry spring three years ago. The summer of 2012 saw a whopper of a fire west of Fort Collins that carried smoke and ash north to Cheyenne with a south wind. Mix together the smoke with a very hot summer and you get a lot of unpleasantness.

But today, well, I plan on spending time outside. There are gardens to prepare. Leaves to rake. Weeds to ignore. The Home and Garden Show is going on this weekend. My old writing pal, Joanne Kennedy, is staging a book signing at the local animal shelter -- a benefit. I have a new used car to wash. I totalled my old used car a month ago and, no, I didn't skid on icy streets and slam into a telephone pole. The weather was much like it is today. A young woman in an SUV rolled right through a stop sign and I slammed into her. I was OK but not the car.

Plenty to be thankful about on this gorgeous spring day.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Depression is a beast that no one should have to face alone"

I've written about my own depression on these pages. I've written about my daughter's struggle with depression and borderline personality disorder. I've written about the suicides of veterans and family friends. I've discussed Wyoming's alarming teen suicide rate and the predilection of boys and men in The Cowboy State to turn a weapon on themselves when things go bad.

Philanthropist and arts patron Mick McMurry of Casper committed suicide this week. He was 69, five years older than me. I saw him most recently at the Governor's Arts Awards Gala in Cheyenne two weeks ago. We knew each other from afar, as people who saw each other occasionally at arts events and other gatherings. In Wyoming (pop. 580,000), many of us are acquainted. It is sad when one of those acquaintances is suffering and we don't know about it and can't do a thing about it.

This story by Tom Morton appeared Friday on the K2 Radio web site with the headline: ‘Depression Is A Beast’: McMurry Family Vows Greater Mental Health Awareness After Mick’s Death:
Mick McMurry’s mental health rapidly declined after back surgery in February, which led to his suicide earlier this week, his daughter and a family spokesman said Friday.  
“This is somebody who’d never been sick and never had taken much medicine, and it had an after-effect of some depression,” George Bryce said at a news conference at the home of Susie and Mick McMurry.  
“Depression manifests itself in many different ways, and can sneak up on you,” Bryce said. “Some people that suffer from depression have a way of hiding it. And we knew that something wasn’t quite right, and we were kind of saying, ‘is that really Mick?,’ and then the next day it was really Mick,” he said.
 --clip --  
“Depression is a beast that no one should have to face alone,” Trudi McMurry Holthouse said. 
Holthouse said her father’s decline was quick after the surgery. Her father would refer to a gathering “black cloud,” yet he hid the symptoms well, she said. 
“He’s so poised about himself and handling people,” Holthouse said. “The way I looked at it was just a change of heart like an enlightening was happening and he was coming to us with deep sorrow and grief,” Holthouse said. 
The family supported him, but that apparently wasn’t enough, she said. 
“It just got to be such a burden, he couldn’t bear it anymore, Holthouse said. “His body had never failed him like this before. He had never not had a clarity of mind, and his heart was just so heavy, but you know, we didn’t know, we didn’t know how heavy it was.” 
Bryce, a trustee with the the McMurry Foundation, said mental health long has been the step-child of the overall health care system and people need to be more aware and aware of what’s happening in others’ lives. 
The McMurry Foundation has supported mental health and depression awareness, but her father’s death will sharply change that because she wouldn’t wish that on anyone, Holthouse said. 
“You can bet there will be some things that we will now be more focused on and take note to help more people. You just never know when someone is as desperate and destitute as that,” she said. “It will be a priority.”
Read more here: Family: Post-Surgery Depression Lead to McMurry's Suicide
Let's all make a vow to improve mental health care in Wyoming. As I write this, my daughter is a patient at Wyoming Behavioral Institute (WBI) in Mick McMurry's home town of Casper. She is at WBI after spending four months at the Wyoming State Hospital and then a week at a group home in Douglas. She's been in and out of treatment centers since she was 14. She's made several suicide attempts. We want to keep her safe. We want her to get the correct treatment for her smorgasbord of mental health impairments. Not too much to ask, right?

In Wyoming, it may be.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Cheyenne Artspace wants you to take its Artist Market Survey

I've always been pleased when people who live in the far-flung regions on Wyoming refer to Cheyenne as North Denver. They mean it as a slam. I take it as a compliment.

I'm a Denver native. My parents were Denver natives. My son was born in Denver. Both sets of grandparents met, fell in love, got married, and had kids in Denver. They were from elsewhere but found themselves in the Mile High City 100-some years ago and did what humans have been doing for centuries -- they got busy being human.

But this isn't about Denver. It's about NoCoSoWy or, if you prefer, SoWyNoCo. It's about Cheyenne, Laramie, Fort Collins and Greeley. It's about the counties of Laramie, Albany, Larimer and Weld. More than 720,000 souls live in this region, far less than the millions who inhabit Colorado but more than the 580,000 or so who inhabit the Great State of Wyoming.

Some 350,000 people live within a 50-mile radius of Cheyenne. There should be 600 people in there who are interested in taking the Cheyenne Artspace Artist Market Survey that was launched on Thursday. That's the number that Arts Cheyenne and Cheyenne DDA/Main Street hope to reach in the next eight weeks. I think they can do it. I attended the survey launch party Feb. 26 at Asher-Wyoming Arts Center across from the Cheyenne railyards. A pair of engines pulled a line of graffitied railcars toward San Francisco. A teamster was wrangling a loaded semi in the parking lot. Lace-like snowflakes danced on my windshield.

Attendance was pretty good for a cold, snowy Thursday. We hung out at tables arrayed around the bare-brick second floor center. Sixty of us ate, chatted and listened to music by Todd Dereemer and his band. The stage was designed as a multi-media stage/altar for the Vineyard Church. The church moved out and the arts center moved in.

Here's how's Arts Cheyenne described this initiative:
Artspace is a non-profit consultancy and property development organization specializing in affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations. Artspace has developed 37 similar projects in 13 states, with a dozen more in development or under construction. A nearby Artspace project in Loveland, Colo. is slated for completion this spring.
Artspace representatives visited Cheyenne last year to tour buildings and make presentations to community leaders and artists. The visit convinced Artspace there was a market for an artist live/work project and in Cheyenne Feasibility Report recommended the survey to help determine project specifics, like space, location, and number of potential users. 
Artspace and Arts Cheyenne will work together to promote the online survey to local artists and arts organizations. A survey report will be compiled and delivered in August 2015. 
At Thursday's gathering, Shannon Joern from Artspace HQ in Minneapolis gave us an overview of the project and provided a rough timeline.

The survey may show a need for the project. It may not. That happened in Casper a few years ago. While a live/work style project wasn't in the cards, Artspace is still working with Casper on a consulting basis. Casper's core business area is booming. The Casper Artists' Guild will move into its renovated downtown warehouse on May 1. A brewpub, gelatto shop and other small businesses will occupy the other half of the warehouse. In some ways, Casper is ahead of Cheyenne when it comes to creative placemaking. If only they could get a new library....

Felicia Harmon of Loveland Artspace noted that the arts survey conducted six years ago in the south end of Colorado's Larimer County helped to "quantify and qualify the arts in our community." Even before construction started on the live/work space, Loveland Aleworks opened a block away because it "wanted to be close to another arts community," Harmon said. Across the railroad tracks from the former feed and grain depot, now the arts center adjacent to the Artspace development, is a group of new studios for mid-career artists and in the works is a new maker space. The Arts Incubator of the Rockies (AIR) has moved into the neighborhood, adding a regional arts component to the local one. AIR was based in Fort Collins but heard the drumbeat of innovation and moved south.  

My advice? If you're interested in the arts and the future of Cheyenne, take the survey. A good investment for 15 minutes. I'll wager that you spend at least 15 minutes a year listening to people say, "There's nothing to do in Cheyenne."


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Clever neighborhood nicknames the key to Cheyenne's cultural renaissance

This is for all of you forward-thinking folks who believe in odd concepts. That downtown Cheyenne can be a vital place. That Cheyenne can one day be an arts mecca or, at least, an arts Vatican. That urban planning is a good thing and not a U.N. plot to destroy our Merican way of life and force us to live in Hobbit homes and ride commie bicycles to work.

Here's news from Arts Cheyenne:
The next phase of the Cheyenne Artspace initiative gets underway this week.
Cheyenne DDA/Main Street, Arts Cheyenne and Artspace will begin an eight-week-long Artist Market Survey process designed to measure interest in an artist live/work environment in the downtown Cheyenne area.

The online survey will be unveiled at a public launch event at the Asher-Wyoming Arts Center, 500 W. 15th St. in downtown Cheyenne. That will be held on Thursday, Feb. 26, 5:30-8 p.m. It includes a presentation by Artspace representatives Shannon Joern and Felicia Harmon, music by the Todd DeReemer Band and refreshments. 
Artspace is a non-profit consultancy and property development organization specializing in affordable housing and work space for artists and arts organizations. Artspace has developed 37 similar projects in 13 states, with a dozen more in development or under construction. A nearby Artspace project in Loveland, Colo., is slated for completion this spring. Artspace representatives visited Cheyenne last year to tour buildings and make presentations to community leaders and artists. The visit convinced Artspace there was a market for an artist live/work project and in its Cheyenne Feasibility Report, recommended the survey to help determine project specifics, like space, location, and number of potential users. Artspace and Arts Cheyenne will work together to promote the online survey to local artists and arts organizations. A survey report will be compiled and delivered in August 2015. 
The Cheyenne Artspace survey will open Thursday, February 26. 
The survey will be sent to artists, arts groups, arts businesses and other interested parties within a 50-mile radius of Cheyenne. That includes Laramie, Fort Collins and Greeley which, with Cheyenne, make up the Quad Cities of NoCo/SoWy. It includes all of Laramie County. If you're interested and don't get a survey, contact Arts Cheyenne. You can also come out to the launch on Thursday evening in the DeNo (Depot North) area of downtown Cheyenne.

One of the most important parts of downtown development is to create short, quirky nicknames for each district. In Denver, you have LoDo (Lower Downtown) and RiNo (River North). NYC has the famous SoHo (South of Houston) and TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street) neighborhoods. I  challenge all of my readers to come up with catchy nicknames for our downtown areas. There are no prizes, but you can entertain people at future DeNo loft parties with stories of how you, almost single-handedly, brought the cultural renaissance to Chey-town back in the early part of the 21st century.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Furnace Repair 101 for English majors

When my 33-year-old furnace coughed, sputtered and died. I called an English major.

Just kidding. Our household already includes one English major -- me. Everything I know about furnaces can be put into this capital O with plenty of room left over for use in one of my short stories.

When faced with the decline and fall of our furnace, I called an expert. The machine expired on a Friday night -- of course -- but Marv's Plumbing and Heating was willing to send a crew out to take a look, with no sky-high weekend charges. The crew inspected the furnace. They pronounced a few possible problems. I stood by, nodding knowingly, icicles hanging from my mustache. They concluded that they didn't know enough about my ancient furnace to diagnose the problem accurately. They said their top-notch HVAC (that's heating, ventilation and air conditioning for you laypeople) expert could come out on Monday and take a look. I said that would be OK.

When they left, I dialed up another heating company. I asked the man on the phone if he fixed old Lennox furnaces. He chuckled and then said it would cost me $120 for him to come out and take a look on a weekend. I thanked him, hung up and waited until Monday. My wife and I huddled around the space heater as prehistoric humans once huddled around the fire. We could have repaired to a motel for the weekend. Alas, I am an English major, salary-wise, and my wife works for a non-profit org, so repairing to a motel until my furnace was repaired was beyond our means. You will notice that I employ the old-fashioned, Middle English use of "repair" (from Anglo-French repairer) to add some language playfulness to the situation. I also can diagram any of the sentences I use in this blog.

I cannot, however, diagram or repair a furnace.

Chris the HVAC guy came over on Monday. I expected a guy my age, a battle-hardened, gray-haired veteran of the furnace wars. What I got was a furnace expert from the Millennial generation. He carried all the right equipment and diagnosed the problem quickly. Along the way, he said he had graduated from a heating and air conditioning school in California. While there, he met a young lass from Cheyenne who spirited him away to Wyoming. They live in an old house with a 60-year-old furnace which he could fix, and did regularly. He said that he would get back to me with an estimate. He did. The cost was astronomical. I called around, got estimates for a new heating unit.

Randy at Mr. B's replaced my furnace a week later. Unseasonably warm weather made life without heat bearable. I came home while Randy worked in the basement. We struck up a conversation. His roots go back to Tennessee, the Civil War and beyond. We swapped family history stories. His grandfather, a B-17 pilot during World War II, was shot down and spent 18 months as a prisoner of war. His grandfather kept a journal on the backs of wrappers of the soup cans that came in Red Cross packages. Those makeshift journals survived the war and were typed up. Randy had a photocopy and gave it to me. I read it. Amazing what people can do under duress.

Also amazing are the stories people tell. You have to listen, though. I advised Randy that there were many inexpensive ways to print his grandfather's journal as a book or booklet. Thanks to technology, the jots and scribbles of our forebears can be put into forms that will last for generations. My sister Eileen is doing that with our grandmother's World War I diaries and my father's World War II letters. I told Randy to get in touch with me and I could give him some publishing guidance. That's one of my specialties at my day job.

Randy provided a tutorial on my new Daikin furnace. He gave me a booklet with instructions and detailed diagrams. The diagrams look the same to me right side up or upside down. Randy knows the meanings of manometer and total external duct static pressure. I am grateful.

My new furnace hums along.

And here I am, writing.