Thursday, May 26, 2016

A competitive state convention is an interesting state convention

All Democratic Party gatherings tend to draw bigger crowds during presidential election years. That is especially true when the race is a hot tamale, as it is this year.

Cheyenne expects a good turn-out for this weekend's Democratic State Convention at Little America. Bernie Sanders won April's Wyoming caucus but ended up with the same number of delegates as Hillary Clinton. And Clinton snagged the super-delegates, giving her an 11-7 edge while finishing with less than 50 percent of the caucus vote. You may have seen this mentioned during Saturday Night Live's opening skit over the weekend. It's also been a topic of conversation online and on CBS and ABC. Some commentators have posited that Wyoming's Democratic Convention may have the same uproar as experienced in Nevada. You may recall that Sanders' supporters disrupted the proceedings at that state's Dem convention.

A bit of dissension is good for the health of the party. A lot off dissension say, the kind the GOP is experiencing this year, may not be so good for the Repubs (pause here for laughter). Some Sanders supporters are new to party politics. These newbies register high on the enthusiasm scale but very low on  knowledge about how things work. You can't really call yourself a Democrat until you get involved in the party and attend years worth of boring meetings just to get your teeth kicked during every election. You also need to get out there and support Dems running for legislative seats, city council, school board, etc. I have yet to run for office but have worked for many worthy candidates, many of whom lost to not-so-worthy Repubs in the general election. Lee Filer lost his House seat in 2014 to right-wing kook Harlan Edmonds -- Lee is back to run again this year. Ken McCauley lost in my district in 2012, and you'd have to look high and low for someone more qualified.  Same goes for Kathleen Petersen in 2014. I've also walked neighborhoods for Mary Throne and Jim Byrd and Ken Esquibel. They won, and continue to do so. Ken is running for the senate this year and has his work cut out for him.

Chris and I will spend our Friday night date night volunteering at Friday night's welcoming reception. Come to think of it, we'll be volunteering Saturday night as well. Yes, we lead boring lives. But it's great to be around people energized by the political system, no matter its flaws.

Come on out tomorrow night and see what's up with Democrats across the state. You may get to meet a Democrat from Niobrara County, where Dems are seldom seen and are in danger of becoming endangered species much like the sage grouse and the jackalope.

Here's the party invitation, filled with exclamation marks to show you how damn enthusiastic we all are:
Laramie County Democrats are thrilled to welcome ALL Wyoming Democrats to the state capital as we host the Friday night welcome reception for our state convention! We are honored to host and we've got an amazing reception planned for your Friday night arrival! Join us at Cheyenne's Historic Depot Museum as we celebrate Wyoming Democratic values! The reception is from 6:30-10 p.m. Your $20 admission includes hors d'oeuvres, your first drink, music, unlimited fun, and so much more! You'll have a chance to meet elected officials, new candidates, national delegate hopefuls, and folks who are excited to turn Wyoming Blue! National Delegate Candidates, this is your opportunity to campaign!  Come, bring your swag, mingle, network, meet Democrats from all over the state. This event is open to the public so please invite your friends! All proceeds benefit Democrats running for office!
To get more info on the Laramie County Dems, go to our Facebook page. Go here for the Laramie County Democrats  Grassroots Coalition, the FUN-draising arm of the county Dems. Also check out the Wyoming Dems web site.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A lesson in guest-posting

Funny things happen when you're asked to write about writing. You learn stuff about your own work.

Lynn Carlson at Writing Wyoming asked that I write a guest post about realistic dialogue. Sure, why not? Piece of cake. I dredged up an old quote from one of my writing profs at Colorado State U. Problem was, I couldn't find the original. I looked and looked.

I decided to use a swatch of dialogue from one of the stories in my as-yet-unpublished collection, "The Department of Noticing Things." Swatches of dialogue are not like swatches of fabric or paint chips. It's tough to lift a conversation that not only can stand on its own but represent the rest of the story. It's doubly hard not to revise it. In fact, writing about dialogue makes it almost mandatory to revise, especially when you quoting writers such as Alice Munro, Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard.

So I spent about 110 percent more time on the piece that I thought. But I earned some revision along the way. Read some cool quotes about dialogue. Read three new stories. Reread Hemingway's "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" for the hundredth time.

Thanks to Lynn for the request. I'll do it again. I urge my readers to read Writing Wyoming. You don't have to be from WY, but it helps.

You can read the guest post at http://www.writingwyoming.com/2016/05/writing-realistic-dialogue.html. I appreciate comments.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cheyenne Comic Con leads to jam-up at Little America parking lot

You'd think that the sprawling parking lot at the Little America Conference Center would be spacious enough for all of the comic book geeks and gamers and cosplayers in Cheyenne.

Think again.

About noon on a gray May Saturday, Little America's lots were overflowing. As Chris and I left for lunch, a Cheyenne traffic cop blocked the entrance, sending Comic Con fans to the overflow lot at the events center on Lincolnway. As we drove away, we saw people parking at the old pancake house on the east side of I-25. Ghostbusters and star troopers and anime girls trudged through the rain for their date with destiny or at least their date with stars in the sci-fi/fantasy universe.

I'm a newbie (noob) to comic cons of all stripes. So, when I use a term such as "cosplay" or "anime," I may not know what I'm talking about. My kids do, but they're away in their own universes. But one thing was clear to me -- the first Cheyenne Comic Con was off to a good start. And I had to wonder -- how come we've never had this kind of parking crush at a poetry reading?

Chris, a long-time Star Trek fan, bought tickets for Cheyenne Comic Con (hereafter known as C3) when news first broke about the event. In the ensuing months, I had retired, collected Social Security, used my Medicare card several times and went under the knife for knee replacement surgery. Not your usual geek pastimes. However, it gave me a leg up (so to speak) at a Comic Con as I was one of the few attendees who was part robot. Not only do I have bionic knees but also an implantable cardioverter device (ICD) that beams signals about my heart condition to a telemetry lab and can shock me back to life should I descend into a fatal arrhythmia. Fatal Arrhythmia -- sounds like a comic book character's name, a villain, I would think.

Fatal Arrhythmia: Die, Captain Cardiac!

Captain Cardiac: Fie on you, Fatal Arrhythmia. I live many lives thanks to modern medical marvels.

F.A.: But I am a super-villain.

C.C.: And I am on Medicare!

Look for more adventures coming soon from You Kids Get Off My Lawn Comics.

At the Comic Con vendor fair, I bought a number of comics. I was curious about this industry which is gobbling up shelf space at all of my local bookstores. We also have several comic book stores in downtown Cheyenne. One of them, The Loft, was the impetus behind C3.

It's no news that comics are big. But I usually read books, such as the kind you find at the library. They are printed (usually without illustrations), bound and finished off with a nice cover. Some of them are several hundred thousand words long, which seems big unless you've read War and Peace.

But writers still write the stories featured in comics and graphic novels. Bob Salley is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh M.F.A. program and studied with a novelist I admire, Lewis "Buddy" Nordan. He was a fan of comic books and entered that world in an attempt to make a living as a creative person, much as other MFAers such as yours truly got into  the world of arts administration, while others enter education, cab driving and the lucrative food service industry.

Salley writes a series called The Salvagers. His is a collaborative process, unlike the act of writing your average literary novel. Illustrator at his Think Alike Productions is George Acevedo, colourist is DeSike and HdE does the lettering. They even designed a special giveaway comic for C3 which features The Salvagers in "The Wreck Raiders." If you bought one of the press's graphic novels, you received a signed copy of the comic. So that's what I did after a lively conversation with Salley. He saw my composition book and pulled his notebook out of a backpack. It was filled with ideas for new stories. I showed him some pages from my journal. They included everything from rough drafts of stories to to-do lists to notes from meetings and events such as C3. This is the kind of geeky stuff that writers do.

Salley and I talked about trading stories and staying in touch. I am fascinated by graphic novels. To belittle them is to negate the life experiences of a big chunk of America. Million read comics. Millions more watch sci-fi/fantasy.superhero movies. Others like to dress and act like Sailor Moon or Iron Man. Creative writing. Filmmaking. Theatre. All creative pursuits being practiced by the people attending any comic con.

I bring this up because the arts funding world has been slow to recognize what's happening all around us. All of these creatives are selling their wares and attempting to make a living. To that end, they travel the Comic Con circuit like bands of gypsies. Do any of them make a living? Some vendor booths are more crowded than others. Some, such as Cheyenne's Warehouse 21 and Winged Brew ("We make tea cool") sell products and services. Others, such as actors on popular cable shows and films, get paid to hobnob with the hoi polloi and charge for autographs and photos. Chris and I paid $60 for an autograph and photo with Ernie Hudson, best known as Winston Zeddimore in the first two "Ghostbusters" movies. He's a nice guy. We like him in the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" where he plays Frankie's (Lily Tomlin's) love interest. They may have to kill him off as he's slated to be in a new futuristic cop drama called "APB." Hudson let slip later in a Q&A that he attended Yale Drama School with Sigourney Weaver and played boxer Jack Johnson on stage in "The Great White Hope." I was impressed. I am also impressed that Hudson was a Ghostbuster and has a cameo in the upcoming "Ghostbusters" sequel.

Mike and Chris at Cheyenne Comic Con with Ernie Hudson. 
What impressed me most at C3? The size of the crowds. "This is better than the Fort Collins Con," said one vendor. This is especially impressive because Cheytown has an inferiority complex when it comes to out neighbor FoCo across the border, where everything is bigger and better and hipper. Except for Comic Con, it seems -- lots of those cars parked higgledy-piggledy in the parking lot bore Colorado plates.

Also, people had fun. Think about that next time you're at an arts event or a poetry reading or even one of my prose readings. Are you enjoying yourself? If the answer is "no," you may want to plan for C3 Part Deux set for May 2017. Or you can check out a con near you. Find out what floats your boat (or steers your starship) and get after it.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sunday morning round-up: Unforgettable cancer stories, Gonzo Derby Day, and snow, lots and lots of snow

Happy May Day!

While many of you bask in May sunshine, we are buried in snow. A moisture-laden three-day snowstorm covered my lawn and garden. It would look like March 1 but for the daffodils and blades of grass poking out of the white blanket. It's not that winter is too long, but spring is too cold and snowy. But without it we get the wildland fires of August.

Since my Jan. 18 retirement, I write every morning. I write journal entries, short stories, and a novel. I write what matters to me. I haven't been blogging as often as I find myself preoccupied by imaginary stories and memoir. It's not as if there is a lack of blogging topics, especially in this wacky election year. I so miss the gonzo journalism of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. If this isn't a "fear and loathing" year, I don't know what is. As is true with most writers of my generation, Thompson influenced me. I don't/can't write like him, but his style infected all of us.

Fellow blogger Ronny Allan featured my sister Mary's cancer journey last week. Mary works at Big Bend Hospice in Tallahassee and, a few years back, was selected as a bone marrow donor for my brother Dan, struggling with leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Mary was undergoing pre-op tests when the doctors discovered a spot on her lung which turned out to be a carcinoid tumor. She was successfully operated on. That also ruled her out as a bone marrow donor. My sister Molly was the eventual donor, leaving her nursing job in Italy for several months to come back to the states. How did this family drama turn out? Click here to find out.

On Saturday, May 7, 2-5 p.m., the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition (LCDGC) holds its annual Derby Day and Wild Hat party/fund-raiser in Cheyenne. Admission is $15 and you can buy one of the Derby horses as well as bet on side races managed by your fellow Democrats. Prizes also given to the wildest hat. The Kentucky Derby is known for swanky attire and wild hats. Swanky attire in Cheyenne usually is rodeo duds. Wild hats are usually not big and floppy as the incessant wind will send them off to Nebraska. Cowboy hats? Well, if you get one that fits right, it should stymie most wind gusts. You can probably "wild up" any cowboy hat, although you may get some weird looks at Frontier Days. For all the details of the event, click here.

BTW, DYKT Hunter Thompson's magazine article on the 1970 Kentucky Derby became the first of his pieces to be labeled gonzo as in "gonzo journalism?" 'Tis true. You can read "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" in Thompson's 1979 collection, The Great Shark Hunt. Will Cheyenne's Derby Day be decadent and depraved? One must attend to find out.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Wish we were memorializing Prince in 2036 instead of 2016

Symbol for the opioid formerly known as Oxycodone.
News of Prince's death rocked music fans. I'm not a big Prince fan, but do admire his creativity. The soundtrack of my life is more Sgt. Pepper's than Purple Rain. I remember well Prince's videos airing on the early days of MTV. Remember music videos on Music TV? Yes, I thought that you would. A new public TV station in Boulder also aired music videos at night. That was Colorado Public Television Channel 12, which now is based in Denver's LoDo. I remember videos by Prince and Pat Benetar and the "Roly Poly Fish Heads" song by Barnes & Barnes and the late great band The Call with its subversive lyrics and sneaky Biblical references. I was thirtysomething then, and music videos were new and quirky. We talked about them at work. Didya see...? Yeah, weird, eh? Yeah. Weird, Weird, and cool. 

The videos have moved to the web. And Prince is gone. The most disturbing aspect of the tragedy are the allegations that he was hooked on opioids for pain. Prince spent his adult life dancing across stages. He jumped from platforms and did the splits, all while wearing his trademark high-heel shoes. When you get to be 57, no matter your physical prowess, gravity takes a toll. Prince had hip replacement surgery and back problems. What does a performer do about chronic pain? Painkillers. And Percocet offers some wonderful painkilling properties. Better living through chemistry, eh? Problem is, that opioid high is addicting and ya wanna keep poppin' those pills.

In the past year, I've undergone two knee replacement surgeries. Both times, my orthopedic doctor prescribed Percocet (Oxycodone + Acetaminophen) for pain. As the weeks passed, the doc weaned me from a higher dose to a smaller one and finally to none at all. A wise man, one who has written many prescriptions for opioids -- and has undoubtedly heard many pleas for more, sir, please, more. Pain sufferers can be a pain -- and very persuasive. No wonder the pills are handed out like candy.

Patient: Doc, I'm in terrible pain.

Doc: You are a terrible pain.

Patient: Trouble right here in Magic City, Doc. I need opioids and it rhymes with hemorrhoids and it stands for pool and...

Doc: Are you high?

Patient: High on life.

Doc: Here's a prescription for a gazillion Percocet.

Patient (kisses Doc's feet, backs slowly out the door):  You won't regret this Doc!

Doc: Yes I will. 

Since I began my personal experience with opioids, I have heard scores of blood-curdling stories about opioid abuse. Fatal overdoses, lost jobs, ruined marriages, etc. Addicts will do anything (and have) to get their hands on Oxy. When they can't, some turn to heroin. Thus the heroin epidemic in the hinterland.

What are our other options when pain haunts us? It would be nice to just say no, but it's not that easy when your body and your brain are working against you. Pain screams for relief. If you are lucky, the pain in only temporary. Knee and hip replacements heal over time and you feel almost as good as new, a return to the days when you only had a bit of knee pain. Aleve can soothe the ache after a Snowy Range hike. Sure, the commercials are annoying but that's a small price to pay for 24-hour pain relief! Caution: Aleve may cause nausea, light-headednesss, heartburn, dizziness, abdominal pain. But still better than Heroin P.M.

Medical marijuana is a hot issue in many states including Wyoming. Marijuana won't kill you. It may lead to harder stuff. But what if you are already taking the harder stuff in the form of opioids? Wouldn't pot be a welcome change from the fever dreams of opioids and the threat of addiction?

We don't yet know Prince's autopsy results.He may have died from a heart attack or an aneurysm. Both can kill quickly, especially if you are alone in an elevator and have no phone to call 911. In those circumstances, you can't always think straight -- or have enough time to dial for help.

Meanwhile, let the tributes roll on. Prince deserves it. I just wish we were giving him a posthumous send-off 20 years in the future.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Grant Farms store in Cheyenne reinvents itself

Yes, it's supposed to snow buckets this weekend. Winter storm Vexo may prove to be vexing here in Cheyenne and all along the Front Range. 
However, gardening season is still on the horizon -- just delayed by a weekend or two.
In the midst of winter -- not to be confused with the winter that visits in springtime -- I attended the topping off ceremony of the new building at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. So cool to watch the building's progress on my walks around the lake. Check it out at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens web site. 
Another boost to gardening in the area is news from Grant Farms on Lincolnway to reopen and reinvent itself. This comes from the Botanic Gardens:
Long-time Cheyenne garden center Grant Farms is set to reopen on April 23 selling plants, seeds and supplies for your garden.
On May 1, it is becoming a source for local fresh food like eggs, fruits and vegetables (mostly organically grown). In addition, they will provide fresh-baked bread, pastries, Jackie’s Java fresh coffee, local cheeses and milk.
On Memorial Day weekend, Grant Farms will open a new Garden Patio Bistro where you can sit and enjoy a fresh coffee drinks, ice cream and fresh smoothies. In addition, they will have live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Show your Botanic Gardens membership card prior to them ringing up your sale and get 10% off!
Looking forward to sitting around sipping an iced latte while inhaling the fresh scents of growing things -- and enjoying live music. Grant Farms is based outside Wellington in Larimer County, Colorado. We consider Wellington a suburb of Cheyenne, although Fort Collins usually claims it. Some people prefer the more accommodating attitudes of CO to WY where crazy people run our legislature. 
Find more info for the Grant Farms store in Cheyenne. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

What I learned in graduate school, part one

It seems as if I've read hundreds of critiques about M.F.A. writing programs over the years. They usually fall into two camps.
No. 1: I spent three years and tens of thousands of dollars on an M.F.A. program and all I got was this lousy diploma.
No. 2: Grad school was worth it -- I learned more than I thought I would.

Alas, I've read more of the former than the latter. They usually are written by young people who have joined the system without much life experience which, of course, is what it means to be young. Does this 65-year-old retiree remember how it was to be 19 or 21 and flummoxed by a university system -- any university system? I was an overachiever, a scholarship student, who crashed and burned after two years at a major American university. The fault was my own, although I spent many years blaming the university and the government and my parents and the phases of the moon. I am an ex-newspaper reporter and satirist who loves it when people take on any system. Doesn't mean the writer is correct in his/her critique. It's fun to be pissed off in print and get attention. 

I'm going to say some nice things about my M.F.A. program. Stop here if you prefer to read the negative over the positive. You may learn something but no guarantee, just as there is no guarantee that an M.F.A. program will make you a stellar writer and a denizen of the Literary World. 

Before I begin, let me thank writer Marian Palaia who wrote a recent essay, "The Real World vs. the M.F.A." for Literary Hub at http://lithub.com/the-real-world-vs-the-mfa/. If fact, you can skip this blog and go read Palaia's piece, as it covers most of the same ground that I do. She's close to my age (pushing 60) and earned her M.F.A. as an older student, older even than I was at 41. Such a wonderful essay that I'm ordering her novel and reading it. The least I can do for a fellow writer.

I liked these lines from her essay:
I do not advise waiting as long as I did to get an MFA, if you are sure that what you want to do is to write. What I do advise is gaining some awareness of the world, and of the people in it who are not like you, before you go into a program.
At 37, I had met a lot of people not like me. Gang-bangers, corporate CEOs, jocks, cabbies, political activists, druggies, yuppies, loonies, etc. I had held tons of jobs, some temporary gigs as hospital orderly and warehouse worker, to full-time jobs as corporate editor and newspaper reporter. When I began to look around for creative writing programs, I had one goal in mind: become a better writer. I had written articles on teen-age swimming phenoms to automotive fan belts. I'd written a novel, which earned me an agent but not a publisher.  My agent advised me to quit my job, go down to my basement and write full-time. I knew that hunkering down in my basement with my typewriter was a bad idea. I could see myself typing, the clatter of the keys clanging off of the basement walls. But I could also see myself wandering the basement rooms, haunted look on my face. Not good for an introvert depressive to be alone all day in his basement. Visions of Emily Dickinson, tormented in her attic. Ernest Hemingway and shotgun at his writing desk in remote Idaho.

I also wanted to meet interesting people. I guess you can do that anywhere. But writers, even in academia, should be interesting, right?

Thee first interesting person I met was writer and faculty member John Clark Pratt. My wife, son and I were in Fort Collins looking for a rental. I decided to drop into the CSU English Department. Dr. Pratt (I could call him John but he'll always be Dr. Pratt to me) was the lone M.F.A. faculty member hanging out in the Eddy Building on a July afternoon. He welcomed me, told me a bit about the program, which only began the year before. Only later did I learn that Dr. Pratt was the author of "The Laotian Fragments," a pilot in Vietnam, and one of the country's experts on the literature of the Vietnam War. He helped establish the CSU library's special collection on Vietnam. In the late 1980s, it featured unpublished manuscripts by veterans, published works by some well-known writers and an assortment of notes and research and ephemera. You can visit it still. Might even be online now.

When school began in late August, I met the rest of the faculty and my fellow students. For the most part, the faculty was closer in age to me than the students, but I had expected that. John Calderazzo was the creative non-fiction guru, A world traveler, he wrote mostly on environmental issues and wrote an excellent book on volcanoes. He'd been a free-lance writer for years, writing articles for corporate, real estate and automotive mags to make extra cash. We free-lanced a real estate piece together, since I also was on the lookout for extra cash.

David Milofsky was a novelist and short-story writer. He'd just left a position with Denver University to take the job at CSU, and commuted from Denver. Milofsky had been an investigative reporter in Milwaukee and still had that hard-bitten city reporter attitude. He was my adviser as I liked his fiction and he liked the fact that I was a bit older than the other students and not so naive and wide-eyed. Poet Bill Tremblay was from Jack Keroauc's hometown and played football before turning to poetry. He was more coach than academic. Mentor to many poets and the faculty member that you knew would turn up for every student reading. I worked for him as student editor of the campus literary magazine, the Colorado Review.

Mary Crow was the other poetry prof. She may have been the most academic of the bunch. She traveled widely, was bilingual and made sure that students got a taste of writers from all over the world through the visiting writers program. Receptions were always held at her house, potlucks where us budding writers got a chance to gnosh and chat with writers such as Paul Monette, Linda Hogan, Tomaz Salamun, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Mary talked me into being the M.F.A. student rep to the university's Fine Arts Program, which led to my career in arts administration -- more about that later. Leslee Becker was a fine short story writer and quirky human. She mentored us short story writers and also LGBT students in the English department.

One of my four semester-long workshops was with short story writer Steve Schwartz. I learned a lot in the workshop, but possibly the best info I got from Steve was about the Colorado Council on the Arts' Arts Education program. I applied, was accepted, and next thing I know, I'm signed up to spent a month in Peetz on the prairie as a paid visiting writer. The goal was to mentor high school students for half the day and write the other half. I never made it to Peetz as a writer/teacher, The students never knew what they missed, and neither did I. My job in Wyoming would place me in charge of a visiting writers program called Tumblewords, brainchild of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), then located in Santa Fe, now in Denver.

Most of these writers who also were teachers are now retired, as I am. A new crew took over, which is the way of things. I learned so much from them, and I was able to work with them in new and interesting ways when I found my calling.

In my next installment, I'll talk about all the good stuff I learned during my three years in the M.F.A. program. Stay tuned...