Friday, October 20, 2017

Get your reading groove on at FoCo Book Fest

Great line-up tomorrow, Oct. 21, for the Fort Collins Book Fest: Writers and Riffs. I have known about this for a few weeks but may not be able to attend. But you can.

My mentor and one-time colleague John Calderazzo conducts a nonfiction essay writing workshop at 10:45 a.m. in the Old Town Library. The workshop, unfortunately, is filled up. No surprise, as John is one of the best teachers around for this genre. If you are interested in the "next steps for you in your publishing adventure," author and entrepreneur Teresa Funke conducts some one-on-one sessions from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. in the Old Town Library. Sign up by calling 970-221-6740. Buy her book, "Remember Wake" about the survivors of the battles on Wake Island (and later imprisonment) in World War II.

Some of us recall warbling late night renditions of Loudon Wainwright III's 1972 ditty "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road" (you know who you are). If you can't remember, go here for a refresher: https://youtu.be/Uu5hzc2Mei4. Wainwright will speak about his memoir, "Liner Notes," and sing some of his songs on the Linden Street stage from 1:30-3 p.m.

The session that interests me is "For What It's Worth: A New History of the Sixties" by cultural historian Craig Werner. As Werner says, the 1960s is "a decade that has been obscured by nostalgia, controversy and a nearly impenetrable veil of politically-motivated mythologies." Couldn't agree more. See what you missed at 12:15 p.m. at the Downtown Artery on Linden St.

Another session that mixes contemporary sounds and books features Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon talking about her memoir "Girl in the Band." It's from 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Book One Events on Linden Street.

As you can see, music weaves its way through the bookfest. The organizers were anxious to seize on FoCo's newly-minted rep as one of the most exciting music towns on the Front Range. As someone who has been on planning committees for three book festivals and dozens of literary events, I like this group's vision. Face it, people don't read or buy books as they once did. They are crazy about music. Mix the two and you might get a crowd younger than book-loving me at 66. And that's what you want.

I wish you luck, FoCo Book Fest. More info at https://www.focobookfest.org

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

No instant remedy for mental illness; no instant cure for Trumpism

From The Hill, (10/14/17): Psychologists march through NY to call for Trump's removal

Let's talk about President Trump's mental stability -- or lack thereof.

It's too easy to label Trump as crazy. He may be unstable. He may be dumb, as is old prof at The Wharton School called him the other day. He may be an asshole.

But the name-calling concerns those of us who deal with mental illness on a daily basis. I am a normal guy. But I do have a case of depression handed down by generations of Irish peasants. I live in the suicide capital of the nation. Depression has many roots.

Our daughter is severely mentally ill. As I write this, she is on a 72-hour psych hold at a Colorado hospital. She went in for an ECT treatment. The docs were alarmed by her mutterings during the treatment, so thought they should keep an eye on her through the weekend. This is not unusual. Millions of Americans get put on these holds every year. A mentally ill person might be brought into the local ER. Maybe he was sleeping in an alley. Maybe he was yelling obscenities at a policeman. Maybe she tried to commit suicide and someone intervened. Many reasons. Your local ER crew would tell you stories, if they could. Mental illness is a problem everywhere. Lest you think otherwise, here are some handy stats provided by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI):
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.  
Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. 
People in the throes of a mental health emergency may get held in one of the four mental health rooms at CRMC Hospital. They may be transferred to Behavioral Health at CRMC East. They may be held for 72 hours, as the law allows. They may be held longer. Some go to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston. Others are transferred to community mental health centers such as Wyoming Behavioral Institute in Casper. Others may go to a local halfway house managed by Peak Wellness. There are options. Families often are stuck trying to figure out the health care system, especially whether treatment is covered by insurance. Or not. For family members caught in the insurance maze, life may come to resemble some of the worst scenes from "Brazil" or a short story by Kafka. Our health insurance system is a nightmare. Trump and his cronies are making it worse. What can one say about an unhinged leader attempting to snatch insurance from the ill and mentally ill? You need to call on literary and celluloid references for something like this. We find ourselves in the midst of a cataclysm. We turn to poetry and books for solace and possibly some answers. This is a marvelous time for creative people. A bad time for the mentally ill.

Alas, art will not save us. Civic engagement is what's needed. Your mentally ill family member is too busy negotiating the health care maze to be much help. The rest of us need to act for ourselves and one other person that we care about. Speak up. Write letters. Go to city council meetings. Vote, please vote. We dug ourselves a hole. A "Snake Pit," if you will. A black hole. Darkness at noon. Bedlam. All these references apply to America's current unsettled state.

Let's not call Trump crazy. Our system has experienced a nervous breakdown. We are the cure.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Artistic and mentally ill and homeless in Cheyenne

What happens when you go to an art opening and you run into an old family friend who has descended so far into mental illness that she is homeless?

Her name is the letter A. I know her real name but I can't bring myself to use it. I don't know what's going to happen to her and wonder what I can do about it.

On Thursday, I attended the opening of the new Hynds Building gallery space featuring six of our finest artists. I was perusing Georgia Rowswell's fabric work when a woman in black sidled up to me. She wore a big floppy hat and a black coat over a leotard top and jeans. I knew her right away. She once worked at the coffee shop across the street from the Hynds. She's a local, went to school with my son. She has a son, whom I remember as a elementary school kid. A is a talented artist and musician.

I hugged her. She started crying. "You recognized me," she said through tears. I asked her what was going on. She said her 12-year-old son had run away, everyone was plotting against her, and last night, as she slept in an alley, a man urinated on her.

I was shocked. It skewed my evening art adventure.

As A told her tale, I realized how far she had sunk into despondency. When I say that, I mean mental illness. She had no place to stay, although she told me that some guy had let her use his apartment but other guys kept hitting on her. This is a good-looking woman in her 30s. I am old enough to be her father or grandfather. She and my 32-year-old son used to hang out in the same artsy crowd.

Isn't it dangerous out on the streets for a homeless woman? I suggested she go to the homeless shelter. She told me that she had been banned but that was OK with her because all the people there wore pentagrams and were Satanists. She couldn't go into most of the downtown businesses because she had been banned for various reasons which I was just beginning to understand.

She said she was hungry so I steered her to one of the food tables. She ate hummus and crackers. Filled her traveling cup with punch. "For later," she said. Other people came up to talk to us but quickly veered away when they saw my companion. A looked like an artsy person but people seemed to know to steer clear. She was known. How come I didn't know? Where had I been? Retired, I guess. Old and out of the way.

Meanwhile, my phone kept buzzing. My daughter was texting from an ER at a hospital in Fort Collins. She had experienced a bad reaction to the anaesthesia used in Wednesday's ECT treatment in Boulder. I was caught up in one of those texting rounds when everyone seems to be talking over each other. I was worried that I would have to rescue my daughter from the ER and bring her home. There had been plenty of calls and texts like this during the past few years. Sometimes my wife and I went to her aid. Sometimes we did not, as she has spent time in recovery centers in L.A. and Chicago.

I felt bad for A, but kept thinking, "Hey, I have my own problems." It was clear by now that A was homeless because she did what many mentally ill do. They elude available help because they are paranoid or schizophrenic or drug-addicted or an alcoholic or any combination of these things. The helpers are out to get her because they tell her what to do and how to behave. She freaks out and hits the streets. She sleeps in an alley and a guy pisses on her.

I am upset because I know this person to be a sane, creative person, a single mom who took care of her son, at least when I knew her. I took the last resort and offered her money, I had $100 in my pocket that I was going to spend on drinks or a small art piece. I gave her $40. She said it would get her food and maybe help with a room. I was going to ask if she was going to spend it on drugs or booze. But I didn't have the heart.

As I walked her out of the gallery, we passed a musician and his son. They were homeless themselves at one time. The musician plays his guitar on street corners and the farmer's market. He took one look at A, grabbed his son and hurried off. This was odd as it is usually what I feel like doing when I see him.

I told A that I had to go because my daughter might need me down in Fort Collins. I told her that my daughter was having ECT treatments. She panicked, told me not to do that as it can erase your brain. She then turned her attention to The Hole on Lincolnway hidden behind the Atlas Theatre banner. She pointed to the corner of the rubble-strewn hole. "I used to make a fire there -- it's out of the wind," she said. OK. We walked on. We ran into a downtown entrepreneur known for his libertarian rock 'n' roll roots. He asked what I was doing. "Visiting with an old friend," I said. He shook my hand, looked askance at A. He then disappeared into the Crown Bar. "He doesn't like me," she said."I'm banned from his store."

I got to my car and got in. I said good-bye, said I would meet her a 5 the following evening across from the gallery. I didn't go, as I was taking my daughter to an ECT treatment in Boulder. While there, her psychiatrist admitted her to the hospital for a 72-hour hold. She has been self-harming and threatened to do more. I left her there and headed back to Cheyenne on my own. I carried with me that old sinking feeling, that my daughter will never get better.

On the streets of Cheyenne is a homeless 30-something woman. She once was a family friend.

My mentally ill daughter is not homeless but could be. How come she seeks out help and A does not? All mental illnesses are not alike. A does not equal B. My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, severe depression and borderline personality disorder. She can hold intelligent conversations. She is a musician and is a talented painter. She cuts her arms with razors.

I read the news today in The Denver Post. It was about a 13-year-old Latina nicknamed Bella in Thornton . She hung herself while her family gathered downstairs making fajitas to celebrate her sister's fiance's birthday. Bella had been the target of cyber-bullying and just couldn't take it anymore.

Even in death, this life doesn't make any sense.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

We ask the old question: why do writers write?

When we speak about books, we often speak in the singular case: the writer's vision, the poet's voice. We talk very little of writing communities. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Beginning in childhood, we are influenced by our family and friends and teachers. The media, too, of course, a factor that surrounds us in 2017. But what turns this interest into a passion? The rewards can be substantial. Fame and riches await.

Pause here for laughs.

There are easier ways to get rich. So why do writers persevere?

My parents were readers but not writers. My father was an accountant, my mother a nurse. They read books. They bought books and took us to the local library. My mother often joked about writing a book. She had subjects: nine kids, plenty of pets, a profession that put her in contact with suffering and transcendence, skill and ineptitude. She was sociable. She had friends. She had a career, unusual for that generation. 

My father read books and hung out with his kids. He had few friends, typical of his generation of men. War chums, college friends, a few relatives. He only had one sibling and they didn't get along. On occasion, my Catholic parents made babies. How and why they did this remains a mystery. They left it to the nuns and priests to explain it to us. They were no help.

I grew up surrounded by mysteries. I remember things forgotten by my siblings. Or they remember things differently. What is memory and why does it play such strange tricks on us?

I thought about this yesterday as writer Sharman Apt Russell explored the reasons that writers write. She presented the morning talk at Literary Connection, the annual literary gathering at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. Russell and fellow writer Craig Johnson were part of a long line of writers who have appeared at this conference. I've attended every one going back at least a decade. Annie Proulx, Tim O'Brien, Kent Haruf, Laura Pritchett, Pam Houston, Mark Spragg. Those are some of the names you might recognize. There are so many others. Ernest Cline attended one year to talk about his best-seller "Ready Player One," now being turned into a film by Stephen Spielberg.  Connie May Fowler talked about her southern heritage and her work. Her 2005 novel, "The Problem with Murmur Lee," is one of the best books I've read with a Central Florida setting.  It's simply a great book. I had a hard time finishing her memoir because the pain and the person it was happening to were so real. I blogged about Poe Ballantine's 2013 appearance at the Literary Connection. I read his true-crime book "Love and Terror on the High Plains of Nowhere" and was dazzled by it. One of the book's subjects did not appreciate my commentary. The book world is sometimes a very small place.

Russell began to write when she was eight years old. Not unusual for writers. Her father, a test pilot, died when she was two.

People write, Russell said, for many reasons.

"We love to read, particularly when we were children," she said. "Those who fell in love with reading as children, it's entered your bones. You want to be part of something that's given you so much."

So true. My parents read to me. They taught me, and I read as soon as I could. I have fallen out of love with books and reading and writing on many occasions. I keep coming back to it, probably because it's in my bones.

Writers like to play. We make up stories to learn how to survive as a human and to try on other roles, as actors trying out different characters. We are storytelling animals. It's part of our engagement with the world.

"When you write, you find your thoughts being clarified," Russell said. "It's your conversation with the world."

Writing is discovery. It helps you to be vulnerable and honest.

Russell thinks you not only should write a book but publish it. Technology has never made it easier to publish, whether it be with a small press or one we call our own. You can publish online. You can publish here. You can publish there. You can publish anywhere.

This gave me hope. Most writers worry too much about publishing. I do. It's the goal of our writers' critique group. We want to be better writers. But we also want readers.

"Getting readers is the follow-through for writers."

She half-jokingly wrapped up her talk with this: "If you are spending a lot of money on therapy, just write books." And it got a big laugh. I thought to myself: "I spend my treasure on therapy and also write books."

In my next post, I'll post about the other co-presenter at the Literary Connection, Wyoming mystery writer Craig Johnson. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Good Doctor from Wyoming: Trumpcare bears no resemblance to healthcare

Driftglass blogged about the Trump and Roy Moore connection yesterday (and cross-posted by Meteor Blades on Daily Kos). An excerpt:
Donald Trump is a petty, vindictive, racist ignoramus and pathological liar who resonates powerfully with the base of the Republican party for the simple reason that they are, in the main, petty, vindictive ignorami who have been trained by decades of conditioning via Fox News and Hate Radio to mindlessly accept as gospel any comforting bullshit that comes from the mouths of pathological Republican liars. 
I don't know how many different ways we can say it........
Trump is the Party and the Party is Trump.......... 
How about this? Moore is the Party and the Party is Moore. 
Our Wyoming delegation is a telling sample of Republican lawmakers: Sen. Barrasso, Sen. Enzi, Rep. Cheney. These otherwise intelligent people have lost their minds under the sway of Donald Trump. Sen./Dr. Barrasso's resume includes stints at RPI, Georgetown and Yale Medical School. He once replaced people's busted knees for a living in Casper. He was the spokesperson for TV's Wyoming Health Minute. He led the Wyoming Medical Society. A Catholic high school grad, he must have been absent on the days social justice doctrine was discussed. He now somehow believes in Trumpcare, which is no health care at all. In an MSNBC interview with Katy Tur this week, this was the following exchange:
Tur: “There are not protections for essential healthcare benefits in this bill.” 
Barrasso: “And there shouldn’t be!” 
Barrasso, a well-educated ignoramus. Or an opportunist. Or a narcissist like Trump. Or all three. Wyomingites, normally people who will stop to offer aid if they see you stranded on a snowy highway, keep voting for Barrasso. They may help you change a tire. But they also are OK if you just get sick and die. Hard to fathom. In the same post, Driftglass included a screen shot of a tweet by Randi Lawson:
Never could've guessed in our country's divorce, that the left would get custody of football.
How did that happen? That head-smashin', rip-roarin' American religion has been subverted by ethnic activists. So, people who wear nothing but shorts and paint themselves orange and blue for a January Broncos playoff game, now say they will burn their season tickets if black athletes don't stop their uppity behavior. We lefties cheer on the athletes and fellow travelers (including fat-cat owners such as Jerry Jones) as they link arms in solidarity during the anthem. Theirs is a protest against racial injustice.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

So where are we? The United States of America 2017 seems like a banana republic on steroids.

And the doctor offers no cure.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Car-centric or people-friendly?

I have traveled to Fort Collins a lot lately, mostly to visit our daughter Annie. She lives a block from the university. She can walk or ride her bike almost anywhere. This summer she took the shuttle bus to concerts at the Mishawaka up the Poudre Canyon. The city has great bus service, including the north-south MAX line. Uber and Lyft are Ubiquitous. Uberiquitous!

FOOTNOTE: Writers might find this interesting. I first learned ubiquitous from a title of a Philip K. Dick strange novel, "Ubik." This illustrates the instructional side of sci-fi.

Our daughter had a car but it met the fate of so many vehicles in a college town after dark -- driving after partying. It now rests in a Denver junkyard, a totalled 10-year-old car with what seemed like so many more miles to go. Alas.

So as I visit and help her with errands, I notice that Fort Collins is much less a car town than when I lived here from 1988-91. That's no surprise to its residents. It is a surprise to someone from Cheyenne, a decidedly car-centric city in a very car-and-truck-centric state. Rapid transit is still exotic in the Capital City. We do have taxis and Uber and car-pooling. We have a superb greenway, although street bike paths are still a work-in-progress. You see pedestrians downtown during the day, most of whom are state employees looking for a double caramel macchiato to get them through the long afternoon. The crowds thin out at night as there just aren't that many businesses worth visiting. We have three craft breweries, all three worth a visit. And there are bars. A few coffee shops. Some restaurants.

If you look for pedestrians along the Dell Range shopping district, you won't find many. You will find a mall and lots of chain restaurants. But people don't walk on Dell Range. It's a place for cars.

One thing I notice about Fort Collins 30 years after my grad school days -- it's a car environment gradually morphing into something else. It's funny, too, since most of the older residential streets were built along Utah's Mormon model -- wide enough to easily turn around an ox cart. Ox carts are rare these days. Most of what you see are young people on bikes and skateboards. Pedestrians of all stripes. All the major streets are lined with bike paths. Some through streets have been mined with those annoyingly huge speed bumps, the kind you see in neighborhoods that include city council reps with kids. Not a bad idea -- you still see plenty of cars in FoCo, many of them going too fast. Many in this one-time cowtown still drive pick-ups, whether they use it for ranch work or just want to look like they do. The CSU Rams used to be the Aggies, which accounts for the big white A on the hill above town. Still a lot of ag and geology and veterinary students here, which differentiates it from its rival university in Boulder. The CU Buffs probably still refer to the CSU bunch as "the Aggies," especially in the lead-up to the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown on the gridiron.

Fort Collins actively discourages cars. It's every wingnut's nightmare. Walkable downtown and neighborhoods. Limited parking. Wide sidewalks. Very rare to see a coal roller. I heard an announcement on FM 105.5 that talked about a city program that closes streets on a rotating basis so people can eat and drink and listen to live music. What's the world coming to?

Not sure what the next few years will bring. Driverless cars. A light rail. A Hyperloop connection is in the works, if Colorado's entry into the project is picked as the one to be actually built. Who knows what that portends for Fort Collins, even Cheyenne.

Meanwhile, my goal in Fort Collins is to slow down and  beware of cyclists. It could be someone's millennial, maybe even mine.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

One Cheney cancels, another still is coming to Cheyenne

Novelist Margaret Coel will be replacing Lynne Cheney as the featured speaker at the Booklovers' Bash on Oct. 20 in Cheyenne. The event is a fund-raiser for the Laramie County Public Library. Tix are $80. Get more info at http://lclsonline.org/blb/2017/

I love Margaret's books set on the Wind River Reservation and its environs. What I like even more is that Lynne Cheney is not coming. She sent her regrets as she faces hip surgery, which is not a pleasant experience.

Thing is, the library already sent out color flyers advertising Ms. Cheney. This is every event planner's nightmare. The postcards/flyers/newsletters are in the mail and the speaker cancels. I've been there. I can just imagine the mad scramble that ensued when  the library and its foundation heard the news.

It's also a bummer, personally because I had crafted a snarky post about Cheney coming to town. It follows, because I spent minutes on this piece and hate to waste it. Please note that Cheney's effervescent daughter, Rep. Liz, is coming to town on Oct. 6 to tell us about her plans for affordable healthcare, edible coal, and the glory of posing with Donald Trump as he signs ridiculous and dangerous legislation. You are invited to express your love and admiration for Rep. Liz by going to the Raddison Hotel on Oct. 6, 11:30-1 p.m., where Cheney will be addressing the Chamber luncheon. Bring a sign. More info here. BTW, I can't find a thing about this on Cheney's web site.

Here's my Cheney post:

Lynne Cheney advocates a whitewashed version of history.

No surprise, as she is a diehard Republican. She has a brand to promote and protect. But she is being billed as an "author and historian" for a speech at the Laramie County Library System's Booklovers' Bash on Oct. 20 in Cheyenne. Tickets are $80.

A library-sponsored event is a good time to talk about free speech.

The library board is comprised of good people. I am sure they have the best intentions for the library.

But Lynne Cheney? What has she contributed to the world of letters? What has she contributed to the world?

I realize that we live in a post-truth society. Trump reveals this with every tweet and every public pronouncement. To resist, we have to be certain of our facts. Bloggers have to do some research to see that their snark is based on truth. I use humor in my posts to make a point. A wealth of material is available. Even if you're lazy, it doesn't take that many clicks to find out if a Trump Tweet has any basis in the factual world. I didn't say Real World because that was a TV show based on a staged situation. This makes it Reality TV. People wouldn't watch it if it was Unreality TV. They want to see real people in real situations that are fake. Thus we have Reality TV and Trump in the White House.

Confusing, isn't it?

So I am going to do what I tell others to do: check it out. Read Ms. Cheney's books and her pronouncements on the arts and humanities. And then advise you, in a snarky manner, if you should attend the event or not.

Funny story. Once, the head of the Casper College Library suggested that we bring in Lynne Cheney as a featured speaker at the first Equality State Book Festival in Casper. Ms. Cheney, wrote books, was once head of the NEH in D.C., was a Casper native, etc. Also married to Dick, former Veep. He has a federal building and football field named for him.

Committee members, me and my colleague whom I will call L, voiced our objections. Later, the miffed librarian was heard referring to us as liberal twits. We have treasured than name ever since. I use it as a handle on Twitter. L has taken a less public role, although I still suspect she is a liberal twit in good standing. I only use her first initial because word comes that Jeff Sessions, the gnome who runs the Department of Justice, is considering opening detention camps for liberal twits and their fellow travelers, snowflakes, progressives and libtards. If history serves, Wyoming would make an ideal place for such a camp. Cold, isolated and crazily conservative. Just like Trump.

As far as I know, nobody has organized a protest against Lynne Cheney. It's a bit tricky as this is a library fund-raiser. When Lynne's daughter Liz arrives in Cheyenne at a Chamber luncheon on Oct. 6, a protest is planned. Get more info here. Liz is WYO's lone congressional rep, one shown often in bill-signing photos with Trump. She skipped holding town halls during the summer recess due to the fact that some crazy liberal might show up and ask an embarrassing question, such as "How can you, as a woman, support a misogynistic, racist swine such as Trump?" This language is mild in comparison with some of the Facebook comments I've seen. But of course, we are gentlemen and gentlewomen here at hummingbirdminds.

I am going to try to check Lynne Cheney's books out of the library and read them. I will not buy them. Or maybe I will after reading them. This is what thoughtful people do. This is what thoughtful Americans do. Besides, lobbyists and Halliburton and government service already enriched the Cheneys. They don't need the money. They are giving it away to charities before the Nazgul carry them off to Mordor.