Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The art of resistance sometimes includes the art of resigning

I am a bit late on this one. Four weeks ago, the remaining members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned. I recognize some of the names on the committee, notably Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of a 2000 Pulitzer Prize and the 29th annual PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story.

Honorary Chairman of the now-nonexistent committee is Melania Trump. What is her claim to creative fame? Well, the First Lady has her own brand of jewelry offered on QVC. Who designs it? Many creative people work in the fashion industry. You'd think someone who benefits this directly from creativity would take the side of creators. I started some online research with the keywords "Melania Trump fashion." Google came back with almost 4 million results. I quickly grew queasy reading about her "style" -- and looking at photos of her fabulous wardrobe. I looked up "President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities resignation" and found almost 500,000 Google results. That was encouraging -- Melania Trump only outdid the PCAH's action by 8-to-1. Now, this blog  will be added to both searches. In this way, electrons win.

One can get lost in the research. The idea was that this post would be an undercover expose on more Trump rottenness. But I lost heart after about 15 minutes. I need my writing time for my fiction and not the fictional reality of an oligarch and his well-appointed wife. What I can do is feature the PCAH's fine resignation letter and then move on to other things.

This is a repost from a 8/18/17 Jen Hayden post about it on Daily Kos:
In a blistering public letter, the remaining members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) resigned. ... you can see the original letter below. It’s a work of resistance art: 
Dear Mr. President:

Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalences you push cannot stand. The Administrations refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions. We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans. Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.  
Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American. We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment. We must learn from our rich and painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people, we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and build the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin.  
Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Action, and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we love. We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and cultural delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.   
Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 
Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.   
Thank you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Baby Boomer boyhood was designed to prepare us for the USA's next war

In a July 26 post, I responded to President Trump's disturbing speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

There was a riotous Facebook debate about Trump's speech. Comments flew fast and furious. Someone brought up the fact that the Boy Scouts of America was a military style organization. Others objected, saying that the Boy Scouts have nothing to do with the military. It was pointed out that Eagle Scouts recruited into the military get a boost of two rating levels over non-Eagle Scouts. That means a lot, especially when you first join up and need all the bucks you can get.

As for official military connections, the BSA swears there are none.

I beg to differ. It's not a conspiracy by the MIC to recruit the flower of our youth into their plan for world domination. It's fun to think so. Who knows, an Oliver Stone film could be in the works to blow the lid off of this plot. We eagerly await it. We thrive on conspiracies.

A Baby Boomer boyhood prepared me for the military. The Scouts were an integral part of that.

My only military experience was an eighteen-month stint in Navy ROTC. I do have years of Boy Scout experience to draw on. I was a Cub Scout from the late-50s until I joined the Boy Scouts at 11. I served until 1965 when I got to high school. Because we lived in beachside Florida, I have all of the water-oriented merit badges offered at that time. I also have a few others. I learned flag etiquette and often served as an honor guard at Scout functions. I took my uniform seriously. I obeyed the Scout Law.

I look at the Scouts as a military training program. We wear uniforms. We salute. We respect our Scout leaders even when they don't deserve it. We go on survival hikes. We drilled on flag etiquette. And so on.

The Boy Scouts of the 1950s and 1960s were training grounds for Vietnam. We knew how to build shelters, start fires, survive in the outback, dress wounds, deal with snakebites, swim, paddle a boat. If you lived in Florida, as I did, you reconnoitered swamps and rivers. When you canoed Central Florida creeks, you watched out for snakes and gators in the red-brown waters stained by tannin from cypress trees.

Most of all, Boy Scouting taught us obeisance to other men in uniform, those with rank and seniority. Be prepared! Mostly, we were prepared to take orders.

Maybe that's why the chaos of the 1960s was such a shock. It upended all of those norms. Once we learned that our leaders, men in uniforms and men in dark suits, were trying to kill us, all bets were off. Nothing had prepared us for betrayal by the very institutions that trained us: the family, the church, the Scouts, the U.S.A.

We could have grokked this, if we were really paying attention.  Some of our elders tried to warn us. Writers and artists. Martin Luther King Jr. Folk singers. Clergy such as the Berrigan brothers. Veteran writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. One of the recurring themes of "Catch 22" is that Yossarian considers his own people as much a threat as the Nazi's Herman Goering Division. They are trying to get him killed.

Quote from Catch-22:
As always occurred when he quarreled over principles in which he believed passionately, he would end up gasping furiously for air and blinking back bitter tears of conviction. There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy.
"Who's they?" he wanted to know. "Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?"
"Every one of them," Yossarian told him.
"Every one of whom?"
"Every one of whom do you think?"
"I haven't any idea."
"Then how do you know they aren't?"
"Because …" Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
And this one:
"The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live."
Who was trying to kill you during the Vietnam era? You get three guesses and the first two don't count.

This betrayal continues. Maybe that's what led to the Dawning of the Trump Era. This long betrayal. If you were a "good Scout" in America's golden age, you didn't question the authority of the church or the family or the government. Our most trusted elders led us into the shitstorm and lied about about it. Democrats and Republicans. Nobody was exempt and nobody was spared.

I hope Ken Burns addresses this in his new PBS documentary on the Vietnam War that starts tonight. It was never just a battle between anti-war hippies and Viet vets. It was a generation coming to grips with betrayal. We never did. Now we have a man at the helm that represented all that was venal about the Baby Boomer generation, my generation. A know-it-all who knows nothing. A draft dodger who wants to blow up the world. But first, he wants to rake in more dough to be the richest bastard in creation. He lies. He cheats. He steals. Trump is the Vietnam War come home to roost.

What makes is especially sad is that serving military and veterans are among Trump's biggest supporters. Did they learn nothing? And why do they remain this way?

We (sort of) survived the Vietnam betrayal. We won't survive this one.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Where is the Wichita Lineman when we really need him?

I am a lineman for the county...

In the late-60s, I loved that Jimmy Webb song, a chart-topper for Glen Campbell. It's a fine song. And it mentions Wichita, a place where I did some of my growing up. It may be the only song that equates hanging power lines out in the sticks with aching loneliness for a loved one.

When I think power lines I think telephone pole. I have been passing telephone poles since I was a seventh-grader in Wichita, probably before that. It's many decades later and I'm still looking at the ranks of telephone poles that march up and down the streets of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Thousands of similar poles were toppled or rendered useless in hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Linemen/women from all over the U.S. and Canada are working on the outage. They are climbing telephone poles that their daddy or granddaddy knew. maybe even worked on. We desperately need these people because they are trained well to do a dangerous and necessary job. We can't just grab our gloves and spikes and shinny up our local pole to fix a problem. It can get you killed.

Some power company contractors were in my neighborhood yesterday. They dug around the base of the telephone pole that sits on the southwest corner of my lot. I was just having my second cup of coffee, searching for excuses to avoid the TV news and start my daily writing ritual. So I grabbed my coffee and went outside to chat. The supervisor was a friendly guy, but busy. He said that he and his crew were inspecting power poles to see "if they would last another ten years." We bantered about other crews like his fixing power lines in Florida. He said he'd be finished with this job in three weeks and be off to Florida. I wished him well and got on with the business of the day.

I wondered how much high-plains wind would it take to topple our poles. We don't get hurricanes. But winds have been clocked here over 100 mph. We easily get 50-60 mph winds each winter. How would my neighborhood poles fare? And why do they need to last 10 more years. Is something magical going to happen in 2027 to replace these poles with something more tech-savvy? Our smartphones need no telephone poles. If you have satellite TV, you don't require a cable strung from a pole into your house. Why can't our electric lines be buried as are lines for gas and sewer? Is it really necessary for power to go out for millions when the poles come crashing down?

I write this as everyone is abuzz about the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Yesterday, 10 demonstration projects were selected for a transportation system that basically involves putting passengers into giant pneumatic tubes and speeding them to their destinations at 700 mph. One of those projects involves a segment from Cheyenne to Pueblo, Colo., via Denver International Airport. If I could get to DIA by tube in 12 minutes without driving I-25, I would do it in a hyper-second. But we will have to wait until the next decade to see if this happens. Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the 360-mile route. CDOT is the first governmental entity to form a partnership with Hyperloop One. Nothing yet from the State of Wyoming.

Meanwhile, I write this post on a laptop that connects with the worldwide web via cable lines that are strung on wooden poles that may (or may not) last another ten years.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Portrait of a poet as a young man

Back when I was a poet...

I worked as an orderly in a county hospital. I took classes at the local community college. I walked or road my bike from campus to hospital for my 3-to-11 shift. I changed into my scrubs in the restroom. Then I set off to take care of the alcoholics recovering in the 1200 ward. They weren't so much recovering as being refortified to resume their lives on the streets. The hospital staff did its Sisyphean duty. Feed them, keep them locked up and out of DTs for as long as possible. and then release them back into the wild. We had drug cases too -- it was 1973. A young longhair tripped out on LSD and ran naked down Main Street. I had plenty of empathy for him. Two years earlier, I had OD'd on acid and spent the night in the university infirmary. Bad trips were nothing to laugh about.

I gathered plenty of material for poems and stories as I watched over my charges. I wrote on yellow legal pads. I hadn't yet discovered the ubiquitous and portable composition books. One day I emerged from behind locked doors to take a break. The break room was also the meeting room. I looked for my legal pad but couldn't find it. A nurse eating her dinner pointed to the trash can. The head nurse had seen the poetry scrawled on the legal pad, the same kind that nurses used for notes on their patients. "She said that she'd like to know who had the time to write poetry -- then she tossed it in the trash can."

I was mortified. My poetry in the trash. It was probably the most concrete critique I ever received. I hadn't published anything yet. My curious friends asked me what I wrote in my legal pads.

"Poetry," I said. "Observations."

My roomie on Graham Avenue in Holly Hill, Florida, was Bob the Biker. He was saving up for a new Harley. His old Harley had met a bad end which he didn't want to talk about. I just knew that it involved the Hells Angels in Milwaukee and a statutory rape charge. He was a big dude, a fine mechanic who was helping me rebuild a 1950 Chevy truck which I bought on a whim. My dream was to get it fixed up and use it for beach trips with my dog and surfboard. We never finished it. I sold it for parts after Bob moved on, replaced by an old high school friend, Ned.

"Are you observing me?" Bob asked one night when we'd polished off a case of PBR.

"And what if I am?"

"I'd like to see it. See what you think."

"You're not in it," I said. "I do have some poems."

"That's OK. Poetry is not my thing."

Not a critique. Just a rebuff.

The 1200 Ward was a spooky place. I carried around a soft tongue depressor for patients who went into seizures. I used it more than once. Alcohol caused lesions and scars on brains that led to seizures. A seizure is an awful thing. Eyes roll back in the head and muscle spasms cause the patient to bite down hard on his/her tongue. I got called in to plunge the plastic tool into the mouth so he wouldn't bite his tongue in half. Once the seizure fades, the patient is lethargic and disoriented. I reported the incident and let the nurses take it from there.  I usually returned to the ward break room where I played cards with the patients. We drank bad coffee and played cards. They told harrowing stories of life on the streets. Most patients were middle-aged males. Some were WWII vets, but we hadn't yet seen many from Vietnam. Some were women, who had their own room. Part of my job was to keep the men and women separated. We joked about it but the women often turned tricks for a bottle. One of the women had a college education and a good job before she went into the tank and hit the streets. During my year on the ward, she was there three times, once with a black eye and a missing front tooth.

One patient came in with cirrhosis of the liver. A black man with yellow eyes and a distended belly . No insurance. None of them had insurance -- it was thee county's charity ward. The cirrhotic man was shuffled off to a room of his own. The supervisor closed the door and let him die. That seems odd to say. But all of our patients were on their way to death, some slowly, some quickly.

How did we keep the patients from all going into delirium tremens? The nurses fed them paraldehyde. What's paraldehyde? Here's a quick description from the Mayo Clinic web site:
Paraldehyde is used to treat certain convulsive disorders. It also has been used in the treatment of alcoholism and in the treatment of nervous and mental conditions to calm or relax patients who are nervous or tense and to produce sleep. However, this medicine has generally been replaced by safer and more effective medicines for the treatment of alcoholism and in the treatment of nervous and mental conditions.
To demonstrate its toxic qualities, nurses demonstrated by pouring a dose directly into a Styrofoam cup. It dissolved the cup in seconds. The nurses cautioned that you must put juice in the cup before the paraldehyde. I was impressed, but knew I would never been serving up this potent cocktail. I wondered: if it does that to a cup, what does it do to your body?

Never found out. The bodies of the patients on the ward were already compromised. The drug stopped convulsions and helped them sleep. I had already seen what the DTs could do.

"The dog! The dog!" The man's eyes were with with fear and he pointed at his feet.

"What dog?"

"He's eating my feet. The dog!"

"It's OK. I'll get the nurse."

I did. The nurse brought a healthy dose of peraldehyde and a calming voice.

"The dog," the man said. "My feet."

"There, there," said the nurse. She urged to lie down and go to sleep. It took awhile but that's what he did.

I returned to the break room and the continuing card game. Nobody said anything. They had been there.

Sometimes a call went out on the hospital address system. "Dr. Blue. Please report to 1400. Stat." Translation: "All available orderlies run to the psych ward. A patient is freaking out and we need help." In 1973, all I knew about psych wards came from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Nurse Ratched. Bull Goose Loony. Electro-shock therapy. Lobotomy.

I know a lot more now. My daughter has been in psych wards and treatment centers in five states in the past decade. I have seen patients freak out during visiting hours and the call go out for this generation's version of Dr., Blue. I have seen my daughter freak out in a Casper, Wyoming, treatment center. You look at these events differently when it involves one of yours.

The charge nurse in 1400 was Mrs. Berry. Nobody knew her first name. She was good-looking in a middle-aged sort of way -- that was the view of this 23-year-old. She reminded me of my mother, who was the director of nurses at a hospital across town. Mrs. Berry had a harder edge, maybe because of her charges. She also had a secret. She was fated to become the mother-in-law of my sister-in-law. My future sister-in-law's sister, my future wife, lived a block over from Mrs.Berry and her sons, frequent visitors at my future wife's house. I didn't know them then.

I worked at Halifax Hospital for a year. I resigned to go off to the University of Florida, where I eventually became a prose writer. My first published work was a poem about a break-up. I do not have a copy of that poem. I'm sure it was tragic and filled with a young man's angst. I began publishing stories in newspapers. I joined the staff of the Independent Florida Alligator. I covered city council meetings, trustee meetings, campus events, etc. I was going to be a journalist although I really wanted to be a best-selling author. All I can say about that is I worked as a writer and editor for most of my career. I blog. Bestsellerdom has eluded me. I still write.

I never worked as a hospital orderly again. I was a cashier in the Shands Teaching Hospital cafeteria one summer. I was the only white employee. The African-American staff gave me a hard time but I won them over by September, or so I like to believe. One of the cooks introduced me to grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. That was what I had every day for lunch. That and chocolate milk.

Back when I was a poet...

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Summer of Love; the Winter of Our Discontent

I laughed when I saw the cover of the Aug./Sept. issue of AARP: The Magazine. Over a Peter Max original illustration was the header: "Celebrate the Summer of Love, 50th anniversary, 1967-2017."

I was almost as far away from San Francisco as a 16-year-old could get in the summer of 1967. In the waning days of summer, I was about to become a junior at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Florida.

That summer, my classmates thought that I was moving to a new life in Cincinnati, Ohio. My father was already in Cincy, crunching numbers at the General Electric Works. He moved as did so many others -- Florida's aerospace industry had come to a grinding halt.

But what about the moon landing, the one that was still two years in the future? Much of the prep work was finished. NASA and its many subcontractors (GE among them) didn't need all the engineers and statisticians and accountants that they had brought to Central Florida for the task. An engineer friend of my Dad was pumping gas. Others found tourist-industry jobs so they could continue to enjoy the splendors of The Sunshine State.

Two of my friends, Rob and Ann, had already decamped with their families to Schenectady, N.Y., another big base for GE, the one where Kurt Vonnegut once toiled in PR ("Deer in the Works"). Classmates had thrown us a going-away party. Good-bye and good luck!

I was registered to attend another Catholic high school, this one an all-boys school in Cincy that I was certain to hate. I was not a kid who made friends easily. I would not make the basketball team, as the new school was big and had a hot-shot varsity already in place. If I ever met any girls, Catholic or otherwise, they would ignore me. My good grades were due to take a nose dive and I was destined for failure. This was my dark side speaking, teen angst on overdrive. If I wrote poetry then -- and kept it -- it would be something to read. But I was a jock and a surfer and my type didn't write emo poems or any kind of poems. Or so I thought.

My mother worked at a local hospital and still had a two-year-old at home, along with eight other kids. We couldn't sell our house. All the buyers were on their way back north. Prices plummeted. My father said that he missed his wife Anna and his nine kids. Dad left me his 1960 Renault Dauphine so I could take my siblings to school and basketball practice and anywhere else they had to go. I was delighted to have a car and a license to go on the many dates I imagined that I would have.

After six months, my father surprised us all when he decided to leave GE and try to get a job in central Florida. My future was saved.

It wasn't easy for my father. He was a quiet man. I can imagine his life as a bookish professor or a secluded monk, a man without a huge family and all the pressures that brings. As a kid, he spent his time going to the library and building crystal radio sets in his basement. He wasn't a striver or a climber, which doomed him from the start in the corporate world. I know, as I spent five years as a corporate man, twenty-five years in government. I am an introvert but learned how to be a public person. I was tasked with supporting my family. I did that. But there always is a cost, and you may not know about it until you are retired.

My Dad returned to Florida late that summer. When school started, he was looking for a job. My mom worked as a nurse at a local hospital. We were together again.

What was life like in August 1967 for the average American big family? My parents never had enough money. Both worked, a rarity in 1967. Still, it was never enough. Most of the people we knew were in the same boat.

The Summer of Love? To us, hippies were an anomaly. I thought they were cool but their antics were foreign to me. Sex was dreamed of but an impossible dream, to take a line from a popular 1960s Broadway musical. We sweated and groped in the back seats of cars. There were public school girls who went all the way, or so the public school boys told us. But that wasn't for us.

Remember that this was pre-Disney Florida. Before the boom that caused the founding of dozens of fantasy worlds and caused everyone in Providence and Newark to relocate to Daytona and Sarasota. If it was a feature at Disney, it would be called "A Whole Different World World."

It's a Whole Different World World
It's a Whole Different World World
Segregated schools, no sex on the beaches
Swamps teeming with gators and leeches
It's a Whole Different World World after all

Don't get me wrong -- we admired those people engaging in unbridled sex and drug-taking in The Haight. We might have followed the lead of our parents and cursed those damn hippies. We were fascinated and jealous at the same time. It just seemed so foreign.

Happy 50th anniversary to all of you who engaged in the Summer of Love and lived to tell the tale.

Summer of '67. We all have our stories....

Friday, September 01, 2017

Trump Sonnets: The First Fifty Two Hundred Twenty Five Days w/update

Summer Friday evening: Reading sonnets, sipping saison. 
Talked to my itinerant writer/musician friend Ken Waldman this week. He called from Columbus, Ohio, a place we’ve both worked at different times with our dearly departed friend, poet and bluesman Bob Fox. Ken is at a conference and will soon set off for Seattle. A long drive, as he said, that will take him through Wyoming but not the part I live in. I shall see him another day.

Meanwhile, I have two new books by Ken to review. They are “Trump Sonnets, Volume 1: The First 50 Days” and “Trump Sonnets, Volume 2: 33 Commentaries, 33 Dreams.” The second volume is a review copy and not for sale, not yet – readers have to wait for January 2018. Both books are published by Ridgeway Press in Roseville, Mich. If that sounds familiar, it’s an indie press run in the wilds of Michigan by poet/musician M.L. Liebler. That’s the cool thing about the indie literary world – creative people doing their thing, not waiting around for permission to put their work out into the world. M.L. has been out this way to read and play music and conduct workshops. He brought me to Detroit to read.

I just started reading the first volume of “Trump Sonnets.” The first thing I noticed was a review by Grace Cavalieri from the Washington Independent Review of Books. Grace is another creative free spirit. Here’s what she had to say:
“Anything you ever thought about Trump is here. And more. And this is only Volume 1. Good thing we have the First Amendment or this dude would be an ex pat. Funny and smart though.”
I am going to include some of the sonnets on these pages. Ken said I could. I like this one from Baltimore, home to some of my relatives on Grandma Green Shay’s side:

To Donald Trump, from Baltimore 

You make George W. seem a statesman --
your opening trick. What the hell is next?
Enact bills to place your orange oversexed
visage on stamps and coins? Re-imagine
your university? Republican
top dog, you now own it all. Your context
in history: we’ve seen just how you’ve wrecked
all you touch. Give it time. The American
people is by far your biggest brand yet.
Count me in to see where it all goes.
Sue the senate, your cabinet, run up debt
to Russia and China. And Mexico –-
that wall. Soon appears some sweet young hussy
you’ll have to grab. That’s you, Donald. Fussy.

Ken has had received mixed responses from audiences. No bodily harm, thus far. He is no stranger to those parts of the U.S. that voted for Trump. He usually is referred to as “Alaska’s Fiddling Poet.” This belies the fact that Ken has published ten books, eight of poetry, and nine CDs, two for children. Ken travels the U.S., playing the fiddle and reciting his poetry and judging literary fellowships, as he did for me at the Wyoming Arts Council. He continues to roam the halls at the AWP Conference, no matter if it goes to New York City or San Diego or Austin. A few years ago in Austin, I took part in one of Ken’s off-campus hootenannies upstairs at an old theatre in the music district. We ate, played music, recited poetry and, in my case, prose. It was a fun evening. His events are off-campus because they don’t exactly fit into AWP. It’s not all academic – I’ve been to some lively readings at those conferences, some great spoken-word events. And the book fair is amazing.

But I do have to face the fact that I once represented the academy. Even worse, I was a scout for the literary establishment, a representative for a state arts agency and, for two years (in Pittsburgh and Phoenix), of the National Endowment for the Arts. These are taxpayer-funded entities (for now, at least) that dole out grants and fellowships to creative people, writers included. Ken has never won a literary fellowship, as far as I know. Neither have I, although I have been on a number of panels doling out awards to others. I can name dozens of writers, whose work I admire, who have won fellowships. I can also name others, whose work I admire, who have never won. Fellowships are not the be-all and end-all for writers. But they can give a boost to a career, make a difference between getting published and not getting published.

So, I sit in my office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and write. I give readings, occasionally, as I did last week in Casper for ARTCORE’s Music & Poetry Series. But I write every day. I’m not sure if Ken writes every day but he sure is productive. He lives most of the year in Louisiana now – hope his place didn’t get flooded in the recent storm. He’s probably traveled a million miles across this great continent. He speaks truth to power, his latest subject the big blowhard in D.C.

Read more about Ken, and order his books, at http://www.kenwaldman.com. Buy his latest books at http://www.ridgewaypress.org 

Update 9/5/17 on ordering books: Ken sends word from Seattle that the books are not yet available on the Ridgeway Press web site. Best place to order volume one is Small Press Distribution, which is a great place to order any indie press book. Go here: http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781564390110/trump-sonnets-volume-1-the-first-50-days.aspx. You can also go to Ken's web site. While the second one won't be out officially until Jan. 1, Ken says that "if someone sends me a check, I'll mail them a signed book." This is the kind of can-do entrepreneurial spirit that Trump would write a poem about if he wrote poetry. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Music, fiction-out-loud, and the company of friends add to Eclipse Day 2017 in Casper

I joined a million-plus people watching the eclipse in Wyoming on Aug. 21.

I almost missed it. In 2015, when Casper began promoting Eclipse 2017, I thought it silly to plan so far ahead for an event that lasted two minutes.

I see now that Casper had the right idea. Wyoming’s “Second City” was right in the path of totality. Cheyenne, the Capital City, was not. When the eclipse passed my house in north Cheyenne, it would be 97 percent of full. As it turns out, that three percent meant a lot.

On Memorial Day weekend, Chris, Annie and I journeyed up to Guernsey State Park to find a good spot to view the eclipse. Campsites were already booked for eclipse weekend. We got on the waiting list. We also bought a day pass for Aug. 21. That was enough, I thought.

In June, Carolyn Deuel of Casper’s ARTCORE called and asked me to participate in the Music and Poetry series held at Metro Coffee Company. I was set to appear with a young musician, Ethan Hopkins, known around town as The Ukulele Kid. That sounded fun. I planned to read a chapter from my new novel set in 1919 Colorado. The Roaring Twenties was a boom time for ukuleles. Maybe Ethan would know a song from the era. Then Carolyn dropped the bomb, asking me to come up for the evening of Aug. 21. A new opportunity presented itself.

ARTCORE would put me up in a hotel as it always did. The bad news was there was no room at the inn. No room anywhere. She suggested that I arrange a home stay with one of my old pals in the arts world. I made many trips to Casper in the past 15 years. Many were planning sessions for the Casper College Literary Conference and the Equality State Book Festival that grew out of it. I grew close to many fine people in Casper who loved the book and the written word and an occasional beer at the old Wonder Bar. It takes a village, as a noble Democrat once said. It also takes a village to plan a big event such as a literary conference or book festival. I knew that, which was why it was such a treat to find a group who wanted to launch an event that would involve years of planning and last for only a few days. You know, something like an eclipse festival only with books.

This story has a happy ending. Chris and I stayed with our old friend, Liberal Twit of Casper. That’s not her real name, but one we use because she is a private person who spent most of her career at a college library and now spends retirement reading, studying history, and cooking.

I am Liberal Twit of Cheyenne. A Republican librarian gave us both that name when we objected to Lynne Cheney headlining our first book festival in 2006. Lynne is a Casper native who writes children’s books. She once ran the National Endowment for the Humanities in the noted swampland that Donald Trump threatened to drain. Dick also is from Casper. I think he wrote a book, “Into the Quagmire,” or something like that. The federal building in Casper is named after his federal self. So is the playing field of his old high school. We should name Iraq War Two after him too.

We two liberal twits have been causing trouble almost as long as the Iraq War has lasted. We believe we have worked in the fields of the Lord while Dick & Co. labored in one – or maybe all -- of the circles of Hell. That’s just the kind of thing you would expect a Liberal Twit to say.

Chris and I watched the eclipse in Liberal Twit’s backyard. It was very quiet. The moon gobbled the sun bit by bit. We watched through our ISO-approved eclipse glasses. The morning grew quieter as it grew darker. When the moon blotted out the sun we knew it was a cosmic event and not some sign of God’s wrath.  That’s what you get from working in libraries and arts councils and reading lots and lots of books. I am not a better than anyone else because of it, just different. I value that difference.

After the eclipse passed, we were all a bit bedazzled. It was cosmic, yes, but also spiritual.

That afternoon, I set out for downtown. My goal was to buy a Zak Pullen eclipse T-shirt. The festival was still humming downtown. I parked blocks away and walked to the new Daniel Street Plaza. A band played. Vendors vended. Beer purveyors purveyed (it was too early for me). I found Zak’s T-shirt but the vendor only had small sizes. Someone told me to go to the Nicolaysen Art Museum’s gift shop. I walked the six blocks on a hot afternoon. The Nick was closed for a private party – it’s usually closed on Mondays anyway. I returned to my car by way of the Second Street festival. The new plaza is a great spot for concerts and gatherings. Designers put in artificial turf instead of grass. It’s comfortable enough, but doesn’t the artificial stuff absorb heat during hot summer days? People were having a good time – that’s all that matters.

A band played at the Yellowstone Garage, a restaurant bar that I’ve never been in. This area is called the Yellowstone District. Old warehouses are now sites of bistros and ART 321, among other venues. Casper seems to be making more headway with its downtown than Cheyenne is with ours. Its work-in-progress seems further along than the one we got going on.

Ethan and I drew a good crowd for that night’s performance. Ethan’s entire family was on hand. They are a lively bunch and gave the show a jolt of energy. Ethan’s original music is wonderful – he’s already blazing a trail as a songwriter. He did some covers too.

All the chairs were filled by the time I got to the stage. Thirsty people wandered off the street and stuck around for music and poetry. Or prose, in my case. I read the first chapter of my novel-in-progress. The chapter has been worked over by me, my writing group, a writing friend, and me again. I even timed the delivery on my smartphone which, indeed, is very smart. People paid attention – that’s what you want, and all you can ask for.

After a beverage break, in which the espresso machine got rolling again, I read a short story from the anthology, “Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An anthology of Wyoming Writers.” The story, “George Running Poles,” is set in Riverton and features two Rez teens skipping school. One of them has a dark secret. You can find the anthology at your local bookstore or order it online from Sastrugi Press in Jackson.

The next morning, I dropped Chris off at the YMCA for a workout and I proceeded to The Nic to get my Pullen T-shirt. I got the last extra-large size. I then saw Aaron and Jenny Wuerker's exhibit of landscapes. I got a chance to meet them, too, as they were on hand to take down the show. Some of the big canvasses were going to exhibits in Denver; others return to the Wuerker's studio in Buffalo. 

It was a long drive home, but at least we avoided the gridlock on Eclipse Day. These were mostly day trippers from points south (Colorado) and many had to get back to their routines on Tuesday, which I did not. Over the course of the last week, I’ve heard tales of people taking eight to ten hours for what usually is a three-to-five-hour drive. Even those folks said that the eclipse was worth it.

And it was.