Monday, September 26, 2016

Autumn a good time of year for Wyoming literary events

Did you know that Wyoming has a variety of gatherings devoted to writing and the book?

Maybe you did. In case you did not, here is some illuminating info.

First, you still have some time to see the book that gave us Shakespeare -- the First Folio at the State Museum in Cheyenne. Wyoming is on the tour of the book from the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C. It's exhibited under glass on the museum's second floor where you can read passages written in Early Middle Englifh [sic]. "To be or not to be..." Etc. On exhibit through Friday, Sept. 30. Get more info: 307-777-7021. For more on Shakespeare in Cheyenne, see my earlier blog at http://hummingbirdminds.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-broncos-vs-bard.html

On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Literary Connection returns to Laramie County Community College. A local book club launched the conference more than 10 years ago after attending the excellent Literary Sojourn put on by the public library in Steamboat Springs. I have attended some amazing presentations at LitConn. Talks and readings by Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried"); Annie Proulx, whose stunning short fiction collection "Close Range" gave us "Brokeback Mountain;" mystery writer and WYO native C.J. Box; Poe Ballantine, whose true-crime book "Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere" explores a mysterious death in Chadron, Neb.; and Pam ("Cowboys are My Weakness") Houston. This weekend, you can hear from Alexandra Fuller and Craig Childs. Not sure if Alexandra still lives in Jackson Hole but she is a fine writer, author of a chilling nonfiction account about her time in the bush during the civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Craig lives in western Colorado off the grid and writes about human interaction with the landscape. His latest book is "Apocalyptic Planet." A $30 admission buys you presentations from the authors, lunch and a book-signing. FMI: Lisa Trimble, LCCC, 307-778-1285, or go to https://www.lccc.wy.edu/about/foundation/LiteraryConnection.aspx

I just returned from the 30th annual Casper College Literary Conference. I am especially fond of this conference because I've been attending on-and-off for 25 years as the literary arts coordinator for the Wyoming Arts Council. That time, Terry Tempest Williams stunned the crowd with a reading from her masterpiece "Refuge." Terry's reading addressed the incidences of cancer in her Utah family that was caused by fallout from nuclear tests. This year, another westerner, Doug Peacock, talked about his experiences with grizzly bears in Montana and Wyoming. Doug sought healing from tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret medic by venturing alone into the wilderness. "I needed something more dangerous that fishing and camping," he said during a Friday talk at Casper College. He found it. Read about it in "Grizzly Years."

I picked up two of his books at the conference: "Walking it Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War and Wilderness" and "In the Shadow of the Sabertooth." Doug has intriguing things to say about "war sickness" (a.k.a. PTSD) and left us by noting that "a recovering vet in the wilderness" isn't looking for data but for stories. It's great to know the causes and possible cures for PTSD. It's the stories that heal.

Thanks to Casper College for featuring so many stories by Peacock and Linda Hogan and Mark Spragg. It takes a village to put on one of these events. In this village are Terry Rasmussen, Joseph Campbell, Julia Whyde and others at CC and Carolyn Deuel of ARTCORE, Casper's very active arts council. As a retired government arts worker, I know how much work this takes. As a an elder of the clan, I urge all of you to support your local arts council through time or money or through messages of support to your local legislator. It all helps.

One complaint ("you kids get off my lawn!"). I miss the Equality State Book Festival, which used to be held in tandem with the literary conference during even years. The bookfest began in 2004, planned by the same committee that put together the conference (plus me down in Cheyenne). It was our only statewide bookfest where we once had two, the other one in Cheyenne during odd years through 2007. It's possible that the events have outlived their usefulness in the age of e-books and self-publishing and mega-bestsellers by celebs. But I was in the Black Hills earlier in the week and saw ads for the South Dakota Book Festival, held at three sites -- Sioux Falls, Brookings and Rapid City. And Montana has at least two bookfests. I admit that I did no volunteering for the cause during my first year as a retiree. Perhaps that will change once I get a handle on this novel. My focus now is on my own community. Perhaps the bookfest can return to Cheyenne, site of the first statewide version in October 2001. Attendance could have been better. It followed on the heels of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks and Cheyenne's first casualty in Afghanistan. But a replay is not out of the question.

The Jackson Hole Writers' Conference is held each June in Jackson. It's one of the best of its kind in the U.S. The JHWC features prize-winning authors from all over the world and an impressive roster of agents and editors. Local faculty includes comic novelist Tim Sandlin, who also runs the conference with assistant Connie Weineke, who just won a poetry fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council and read her work in Casper. Tim is a dogged organizer. He shows the same inventiveness finding event funding as he did surviving as an aspiring writer in one of the West's most expensive resorts. He washed a lot of dishes while conjuring cool characters and fantastical plots. Get more info about JHWC by going to http://jacksonholewritersconference.com/

Wyoming Writers, Inc., has been putting on annual conferences since Hector was a pup. I've attended many, most of them for the Arts Council. Last year's conference at the Wind River Casino in Riverton was my first as a civilian writer. The only gambling I did was during pitch sessions to an editor and an agent ("we don't do short stories!"). I'm a member in good standing and will be at the gathering in Gillette in June 2017. More info at http://www.wyowriters.org/

Other writing events take place all over the state. Writing critique groups aren't for everyone, but most larger communities have one or several. Look to your local library and community college! UW, too.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Broncos vs. The Bard

A writer, dead for 400 years, caused me to miss the first half of the Denver Broncos season opener.

I know, where are my priorities? William Shakespeare vs. two NFL teams that battled it out in Super Bowl 50?  Denver, our southern neighbor, was at a fever pitch for weeks leading up to the game. My Colorado hometown may no longer be a cow town but it still bleeds orange and blue every fall. Three Super Bowl championships, multiple Super Bowl appearances (we don't talk much about the first three or the one in February 2014), many league championships and wins over the dreaded Raiders. I was a jock in high school and a sports reporter as a young man. Sports are in my blood.

But so is Shakespeare. My accountant father's library still had his college Shakespeare texts but nothing on finance and economics. I was more interested in reading first-hand accounts of World War II. Dad seemed happy that his eldest child loved reading and books. I think he was a frustrated academic, one who would have been more comfortable surrounded by books than IRS rules and regs. Not a teacher but /probably a researcher, as he wasn't all that good with people.

Shakespeare's First Folio is touring the U.S., courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Actually, six of the first folios are touring and one landed at the State Museum in Cheyenne. Published in 1623, it is kept under lock and key in a climate-controlled glass case watched over by a security guard. The pages are open to Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech. The text is small and difficult to read, not only because of its size but because the language -- Early Modern English -- is arcane to us. Here's a sample:


A bad quarto was basically a bootlegged copy of the script, written hurriedly by an audience member or recalled later by actors. Think of a bootlegged copy of, say, a Grateful Dead concert in the 1970s. The good quarto was a copy of the play taken from the source. The first folio is the 1623 version that featured 36 plays, 18 of which had never before appeared in print.

I didn't have to read the fine print to know the value of what I saw. The first folio saved 16 of Shakespeare's plays from oblivion. They include Macbeth, The Tempest, Henry VIII and Twelfth Night. Forsooth, what would Hollywood have done without the three witches or Prospero's island? I would never had been treated to a nude version of Macbeth's witches at Gainesville's original Hippodrome Theatre. My life would be leff without it. 

If you want to talk monetary value, a first folio was sold at auction in 2001 for $6.1 million. I'll take two! When it was hot off the presses, a first folio went for about a pound. In today's money, that's somewhere between $150-$250.

But it's not the money really now is it? As the State Museum exhibit points out, Shakespeare and his plays have given us phrases that we use every day and countless hours of entertainment at the movies. I believe that I first heard lines from Romeo and Juliet in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Every state boasts a Shakespeare company, usually one that tours performances every summer. In Wyoming, that's the Wyoming Shakespeare Company out of Lander. I recall a memorable version of King Lear on the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens lawn. Nature provided its own thunder and lightning for the famous storm scene with King Lear and The Fool. Here's Lear: 
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!
Now that's a storm. 

Last night was rounded out with a presentation by UW Prof Peter Parolin: "From the Fringes to the Folio: Crossing Borders with Shakespeare in Life, on Stage, and in the Globalized World." Fascinating talk, and I was surprised on how many stayed after the food and wine and entertainment to hear an academic speak. I had not thought about "migration as one of Shakespeare's principal themes." But Parolin has, at length. He accompanied it with  a PowerPoint presentation, his first, which acted as a helpful assistant to the talk. 

I had not thought of migration and immigration as big Shakespeare topics. But crossing borders happens a lot. The Merchant of Venice and Othello are good examples, with their "foreigners" as key characters. Parolin even quoted a brief snippet from Shylock's speech: "In Aleppo once..." The Syrian city has been in the news lately as it suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- and the forgetfulness of presidential candidates. 

Thanks to everyone at Wyoming Cultural Resources for bringing the folio to Cheyenne and staging the event. The First Folio will be in town through the end of September. 

I made it back to my Smart TV to watch the second half, in which the Broncos staged a comeback. With 9 seconds left, the Carolina Panthers kicker nailed a field goal but it was negated by a Broncos timeout. The second kick went wide to the left. That kicker was feeling some slings and arrows last night on Twitter. In Denver, they were partying like Falstaff and Prince Hal in 1402. 


Friday, August 26, 2016

"George Running Poles" finds a home in new Wyoming anthology

I've been working on a novel since the spring. I got tired of agents and editors asking me, a short-story writer, if I had a novel. This longer piece grew out of a short story that wanted to go long. So now it is. I won't say what it's about because it's supposed to be bad luck. I will say that it's set in Colorado in 1919-1920. An intriguing era, this post-war period. The Great War altered how people viewed the world. Women got the vote and Prohibition became law which led to lawlessness, even in rural Colorado. The Klan was on the rise, attacking Irish- and Italian-Catholics -- and Hispanics -- when they couldn't find any black people to torment (the alt-Right is nothing new). Americans were spooked by the Russian Revolution (the U.S. had 8,000 troops in Russia in 1918-1920 fighting the Bolsheviks) and blamed commie troublemakers for everything from labor unrest to avant-garde art. That gives me a few subjects to use for conflict in my story. Then there's the usual problems caused by the human heart in conflict with itself.

On the short story front, I heard two weeks ago that my story "George Running Poles" has been accepted for the new book, Blood, Wind, Water, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers. It will be published in the fall by Sastrugi Press of Jackson. Lori Howe, a fine poet, is the editor. Look for it at an indie near you. Support your Wyoming writers! Just to whet your appetite, here is the story's opening paragraph:
Two teen boys walk along the asphalt bikeway in Riverton, Wyoming. George Jumping Bull pushes a shopping cart he found abandoned in the winter-brown grass. He’s wearing black sweatpants bunched over white running shoes and a red bandanna tied around his close-cropped hair. Jimmy Jones wears his black Oakland Raiders cap sideways, its bill pointing east. He milks a pint bottle of vodka as he walks. George reaches for it.
Lynn Carlson has asked me to write a short piece for the blog she co-authors/edits with Susan Mark. The blog, Writing Wyoming: Words, wind and everything else Wyoming, features great posts about writing and marketing your work. I've pulled a number of publishing leads off of this blog. Lynn's latest post on Aug. 16 is about the Storycatcher Workshop she attended in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Go read it. Lynn asked me to write a composite post by Sept. 9 on the subject of reading your work at open mic sessions. I readily agreed, as it took me awhile to read my work in public, period. I was 39 or 40 the first time I read in public as a late-blooming grad student at CSU in Fort Collins. Since then, I have embarrassed myself many times in public, from Denver to Cheyenne to Washington, D.C. What experiences do you have as a writer in a public forum? Let me know so I have something to blog about in September. Here's the topic: "A good noise: in praise of the open mic." Lynn took the title from a John Gorka song:
'Cause if you cannot make yourself a good noise
tell me what you're doing here.
My daughter Annie now lives in Chicago. Her northside neighborhood was once Polish and then Hispanic and now, I'm afraid, is in danger of gentrification. A brewpub has opened next to the wig store and funky murals are replacing graffiti. Hipsters have been sighted. She wants us to come visit so is arranging interesting sites to see and tours to go on. The Chicago Mafia Tour sounds intriguing. I may prefer the Chicago Literary Tour which includes stops at sites occupied by such fine writers as Gwendolyn Brooks, Ernest Hemingway, Lorraine Hansberry and Carl Sandburg, and the office of the woman who first published James Joyce in the U.S. Writers with Chicago roots continue to compose great works. I'm talking about you, Larry Heinemann, Dave Eggers and Walter Mosley.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

In which I come up short in my race for precinct committeeman

Tuesday's primary election yielded some surprises.

First, and most disappointing, is that I was upset in my pursuit of precinct 2-7 committeeman. As is true with most Laramie County precincts, 2-7 gets to elect a committeeman and woman. Big deal, you might say. Many precincts had no Democrats running. The power and glory attached to these positions consist of voting for county officers in the spring. Every precinct person gets a vote. County officers are charged with running the party, conducting meetings, staging the county convention and basically setting the agenda. During non-presidential election cycles, a county chair may not have much to do. But presidential election years up the ante, especially this time out with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders vying for the nomination. It was a bit contentious at times, especially during the county caucus when the Bernie supporters were being a bit frisky. Laramie County also held the state convention, which is a big responsibility.

Where was I? Oh yeah, committeeman. I lost in a tight race to Ed Waddell, my neighbor who also ran  the local Sanders campaign. He also is running for city council, a good job for an urban planner. Ed beat me fair and square, earning eight more votes than I did. On the distaff side, my wife Christine earned 127 votes, swamping the two write-in candidates. So Christine and Ed will serve our precinct during the coming year.

I must mention that there was only one other contested precinct race. In that one, Heather Muth lost to Mary Throne. Credit name recognition, as Mary is the House Minority Leader and gets mentioned in the newspapers and TV quite a lot. Heather is my colleague on the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition events committee which plans all of the fund-raisers, most of which involve food and, occasionally, alcoholic beverages. We raised $15,000 for legislative candidates during this cycle.

In big cities, precinct spots are always fought over. You are in charge of getting out the vote for your area. That includes knocking on doors, holding potlucks, distributing flyers and signs, and generally making a nuisance of yourself. Grassroots stuff. We are just not used to that around here, Democrats especially. We are outgunned and outnumbered. Disappointed and disgruntled.

But an infusion of new blood to the most populous county in the state had energized us. I also have to give credit to the Bernie surge. Some of those folks have decided to get involved with the party. Not easy to do for some, who viewed Hillary and the party as inseparable, Clinton was seen as the establishment candidate, while Bernie was the outrider -- and an Independent. Independents don't exist on Wyoming ballots. You are either a D or R or U -- Unaffiliated.

It didn't help that caucus-goers voted 56% for Bernie but received the same number of delegates (not counting Superdelegates) to the state convention. Ill will still exists over this. I'm no genius, but 56% is more than 44%.

So some Berniecrats, such as Ed Waddell, have chosen to be more involved or to stay involved. I wish them the best as they work to GOTV. The numbers are on the side of the Republicans. But we have some fine candidates running. In our HD8, Linda Burt is running against Bob Nicholas, the Repub. She is an active Dem and once headed up the Wyoming ACLU. We all will be working hard to get her elected. The Republican majority in the Legislature is bad for the state. Short-sighted and selfish. The Know Nothing Right-Wing Fringe gained two more candidates in primary upsets. We must get rid of those people. When I saw get rid of, I mean to vote against them, not the other thing, the one that Trump means when he sends out coded messages about the second amendment.

Meanwhile, I wish my precinct leaders the best. When looking for volunteers, you know where to find me.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

U.S. going to hell in a handbasket: an update

I can "pass" as a Trump supporter.

I am a gray-haired retiree living in the very red state of Wyoming. I check "white" or "Caucasian" on surveys and government documents. Sometimes I write in "Celtic" or "Irish-American" due to my roots and my freckled exterior and general wise-ass attitude. I have been married for eighty gazillion years (give or take) and have 2.0 children who no longer live in Wyoming. I own my own house and keep the lawn green and cut, for the most part. I pay my taxes and, like the majority of Americans, no longer go to church on a regular basis yet I still call myself a Christian.

For those reasons alone, I would be welcomed with open arms at a Trump rally. However, should the Trump capos dig deeper into my background, they would find that I am hopelessly progressive and should be interned on the second day of the Trump presidency. On the first day, Trump will be busy building his wall.

Progressive, as you probably know, is another word for Liberal or Democrat. According to evangelist Franklin Graham, who visited our fair city yesterday for a fundie hootenanny on the Wyoming Supreme Court lawn for 2,400 true believers, progressive is "just a code word for being an atheist." And as he went on to say, according to today's WTE, "there's no difference between secularism and communism -- they're both godless."

The now-gray-haired offspring of the Rev. Billy Graham, Tricky Dick's bff, looks and sounds like Trump when he says that there is too darned much political correctness (PC) in the USA. Trump loves that term and drags it out every time he wants to criticize those who are criticizing his racism and sexism. Doggone it, if I want to use that term for black people that my grandpappy did, it's my God-given right to do so. God told me that. To not do his bidding would be a sin. So to hell with you PC people.

Political correctness has been a favorite right-wing catchphrase for several decades now, ever since White America has sensed that they are being overtaken by the ethnic tribes of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Those fears are borne out by simple demographics. Numbers of foreign-born and ethnic populations have increased. However, the U.S. is still majority white at 77% or 62 percent if you remove those who call themselves both Hispanic and white. But that's just not white enough for some who feel that the U.S. began to go to hell in a handbasket beginning in the sixties and culminating in the presidency of that black guy who was probably born in Kenya.

Anecdotal evidence abides. My Irish-American parents spawned nine children. To keep up traditions, all of us should have bred nine children each and they all should be busy breeding too, allowing the freckled white race to forever thrive in these United States. Fortunately for the planet, my siblings and I produced no more than 0-3 children each, which opened the door for swarthy immigrants and Donald Trump.

Blame us.

My children and nieces and nephews all seem too busy making a living and hanging out at brewpubs to procreate. I salute their choices. We may be doomed, but at least they all get to appreciate a good IPA along the way.

One more thing... I received a mailing from Judicial Watch this week. I don't know how Phyllis Schlafly got my address but there she was, glowering at me from the gray foolscap. The first paragraph of her missive said it all:
Dear Fellow American:
Obama's illegal EXECUTIVE AMNESTY for untold millions of illegal aliens who have invaded America in an audacious scheme for winning future elections for the Left.
That's the beginning, but you know what's coming. These millions of illegal aliens will vote "in large numbers, for liberal politicians" and will receive "generous welfare benefits" such as food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security benefits and "Obamaphones." Obamaphones? I Googled that term as I had never heard of it. Turns out, needy Americans can get help with free cell phones and free minutes by applying on obamaphone.com. In case you're curious about the name, this info from the web site should help:
To clear up any possible confusion, it is important to state up front that the Obama Phone is the popular, unofficial name of the Lifeline Assistance program. It matters little, however, what the official name is, because the Obama Phone is the name people know, what they talk about, what they remember. 
Now I shall remember it too.

Ms. Schlafly is right to be alarmed. The first thing those millions of illegal aliens (known to PC progressives as undocumented immigrants) will do when they get their cell phone is get online and donate their millions in disposable income to The Left. You might have thought that these people would be wiring their millions to their impoverished villages in Mexico or Syria. But you'd be wrong. Phyllis says so.

Anyway, if you want to send a Nastygram to Judicial Watch, find them here. If you want to send a Candygram to Ms. Schlafly, go to the Eagle Forum web site.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Dems garden party on Aug. 28 features Keith Blaney in concert



As a member of the event planning committee for the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition in Cheyenne, I share this bit of news (and an appropriate video from the way-back machine) with music-loving liberals:

The Laramie County Democratic Grassroots Coalition (LCDGC) is sponsoring a Garden Concert Fundraiser featuring singer/artist Keith "Boxcar" Blaney on Sunday, August 28. The Garden Party will be from 2-5 p.m. at 3626 Dover Road where Keith will entertain with his acoustic guitar. Suggested donation is $15.00 at the door. There will be appetizers and a 50/50 card sale. Please BYOB, a lawn chair and an appetizer to share. Come enjoy an afternoon in a beautiful garden with awesome music and great conversation with like minded individuals. For further information, contact Kathleen at 421-4496.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

On Donald Trump's five draft deferments

Men of a certain age should read this in Monday's New York Times article: "Donald Trump's Draft Deferments: Four for College, One for Bad Feet."

Spoiler Alert: Trump didn't get drafted during Vietnam. A shame, really, since he could have advised Gen. Westmoreland and his brain trust on the proper way to conduct and win a war. Of course, the "best and the brightest" were already advising Lyndon Johnson and later, the dynamic duo of Nixon/Kissinger on "How the world's number one superpower can defeat tiny pajama-clad guys hiding in holes in the jungle." The addition of another brainiac from the Ivy League (Wharton School) might have tipped the balance in our favor.

But Trump took his 1-Y deferment (bone spurs in his feet) into the real estate business and made a bundle, facing many sacrifices along the way. The bone spurs eventually cleared up, allowing The Donald to jump up on stages and cut the fool from Flint to Fort Lauderdale.

Full disclosure: I also had five draft deferments. Two for education, one for ROTC, one the coveted 1-A and, finally, I was told by Selective Service that my presence wouldn't be needed except in times of national emergency. That day never arrived.

Trump didn't go to Vietnam. Neither did I. He had bone spurs and a high draft number. My number from the December 1969 Selective Service Lottery was 128. In 1970, the Selective Service called eligible men with numbers all of the way up to 300.

The difference is, I'm not running for president. I am not boasting that I will send young people to war against Radical Islamic Extremists. I am not buds with Russian oligarchs and Vladimir "Big V" Putin. I do not belittle sacrifices made by Gold Star families.

Trump feels "a little guilty" for not serving. So do I. I guess we have that in common too.

Some politicians float proposals about a return to the draft. Or at least a national service program for 18-25 year olds. Republicans don't like this idea as it would put the educated class in harm's way, the same way it does now for enlistees from Meeteetsee, Wyoming, and Itta Bena, Mississippi. Sacrifices would be made.

The draft wasn't fair. Random in its ways, never more so as when the lottery was in operation.

Trump has his story. I have mine. I will post it in installments over the next month.