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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Great line-up of writers and editors for WWInc Conference in Cheyenne

In a Dec. 8 post, I wrote about Colorado poet Aaron Abeyta coming to Cheyenne June 5-7 as the keynoter for the Wyoming Writers, Inc., annual conference.

What I forgot to mention are the other fine writers and editors serving as faculty at the conference. Fiction writer and essayist Laura Pritchett from Fort Collins will be there, as well as Kent Nelson, a great short story writer from Salida, Colo. Editor Patrick Thomas will represent Milkweed Editions, one of Pritchett's publishers ("Hell's Bottom, Colorado") and one of America's great non-profit presses based in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Other editors include Tiffany Schofield from Five Star Publishing and Meghan Saar, senior editor of True West Magazine.

The WWInc conference launches the summer art season in Wyoming. School's out, the flowers are in bloom, and the snow is mostly over. People enjoy the outdoors all day and sip Wyoming-made IPAs on the front porch in the evening. Air Guard C-130s and Blackhawks buzz our house and the neighbor kid pops wheelies on his dirtbike. Al over the state, people dig music festivals, art fairs and brewfests. The mountains, too -- can't forget those.

At the writers' conference, I've agreed to serve as emcee for Friday and Saturday night's open readings. I enjoy the job. Each writer (me included) gets five minutes for their prose or poetry. Some accompany themselves on guitars or kazoos. When the timer sounds at the end of five minutes, the writer has to sit down. The hook comes out if they don't. You don't want to get the hook. It goes on your permanent record.

See you in June in Cheyenne.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Wyoming, we have our own nattering nabobs of negativism

"In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4H Club -- the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."
Former vice president Spiro Agnew said this in 1970 about enemies of the Nixon administration, which included journalists, anti-war activists and pointy-headed intellectuals. At the time, none of these categories applied to me. They do now, 45 years later. I had to grow into them.

Agnew resigned in disgrace in 1973, replaced by Gerald Ford, who had some Wyoming roots and later went on the be president when Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Agnew's alliteration can be credited to William Safire, himself a journalist, and Pat Buchanan, known mostly for being a TV talking head and a presidential candidate. They wrote speeches for the Nixon White House. These guys loved words and it shows. They reached all the way back to the utterings of Captain Haddock, a character in the Tintin comic strip (and a 2011 Spielberg film) by Belgian cartoonist Herge. Captain Haddock was known for his colorful epithets: "Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles" and "Ten thousand thundering typhoons!" Herge knew that sailors were known for their swearing but many children read his comic strip. So he found that alliterative words strung together and said in an angry voice can have the same effect as, well, you know -- a string of obscenities. You can call your critics pansy-ass anti-war dipshits. Or you can call them nattering nabobs of negativism. Those white Southern fundies will know what you're saying, and they can still pretend in public that they don't drink and swear.

Nattering nabobs of negativism. That term could be used for extremist Republicans in our state legislature. They've never seen a new idea they liked. To them, progress is a dirty word.  Technology is almost as scary as immigrants, LGBT people and Medicaid expansion. When our civic leaders promote planning initiatives, Repub extremists see a U.N. plot.

Agnew grew up a Democrat in Maryland and became a Republican and a moderate until Nixon got his hooks into him. Agnew became a mouthpiece for the Southern Strategy, the successful attempt to turn Bible Belt Conservative Democrats into Republicans. We're still feeling its effects. Most conservative ridiculousness comes from the South and deep-red states of the West.

It's difficult to reconcile the overwhelming negativity of the conservative legislature with the positive things I see happening all over Wyoming. The arts are booming, especially art on the local scene. "Local" is the key term here. Artists and artisans are figuring out that the best way to ensure the survival of your community is to grow it from the inside out. Big Coal isn't going to save you, nor is Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Tourism, Big Biz of any kind. Wyoming has always served as energy colony to the nation. That era is over, or at least on its way out. Gigantic wind farms, such as the one planned for Carbon County, may replace gigantic open pit coal mines. But it will be community-driven initiatives that save us. A paranoid fear of the federal government will not help. Nattering nabobs of negativism breed fear and insecurity. Instead, you need to look at what makes your community unique and open the door to change. That's not easy when you live in a small town in windswept Wyoming. It's much easier to blame some outside force for the fact that your town is ready to dry up and blow away. Federal gubment. Liberals. Obama. Enviros. That kind of negativism just quickens the inevitable.

Communities need to ponder their own navels for a bit to know what makes it tick. They may even have to indulge in some planning. It isn't always pretty when people from throughout a community get together to air their ideas. But the opposite is true, too. The death of a town through neglect and attrition is an ugly thing. We keep hearing that Wyoming is aging rapidly and our kids are leaving for more thriving locales.

Nonsensical nattering negativity is not the solution. What about continuing creativity conversations?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How to turn your yard into a destination for birds, bees, and butterflies

The wind is driving me crazy. But the warm weather brings thoughts of gardening. Landscaping, too. I've been wanting to kill my lawn for years. Problem is, you have to replace that grass with something else. My small front yard would look good in rocks. My twin spruce trees rain down destruction. Those needles acidify the soil, a tree's way of banishing competition for resources. I can neutralize the soil and plant a hardier grass. Then I'd have to mow it.

There's no easy way out.

I like the idea of wildscaping, turning my lawn into a habitat for the birds and the bees and the butterflies.

Barb Gorges wrote this week in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle about a Habitat Hero workshop in Cheyenne that will address the idea of wildscaping on the high prairie. The workshop will be held March 28, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at Laramie County Community College. One of the speakers is Susan Tweit, who earned her plant biology degree at UW and now lives near Salida, Colorado. Susan's a fine writer, author of "Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide." She also finds time to post a daily haiku and a scenic photo on Facebook. Other speakers include Jane Dorn, co-author of "Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area," and Clint Basset, Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities water conservation specialist.

The three panelists will look at yards submitted by participants and describe ways to turn those spaces into destinations for wildlife.

I'd love to see what they recommend for my yard.

Tickets are $15. Register at Habitat Hero Cheyenne.