Saturday, February 02, 2002


...Is residing just blocks away from home cookin'. I probably had no business driving tonight (yup, I'm still down with some bug or other) (and the jokes about how it must be especially rough for me to be unable to talk – at best I manage something that sounds like a half-strangled frog – just keep on getting funnier; thanks everybody!) but it was worth it even though I now feel like complete ass because my own dear personal mom made one of my favorite dishes just for me: linguine with red clam sauce, a dish I always love but tonight, tonight it was even more special.

Because tonight, tonight I could taste it. Schiller's Ode to Joy resounded, fireworks exploded, burqas were ripped from heads and machine guns fired straight into the air (the bullets miraculously evaporating before they could harm anyone on the ground).

So I must be on the mend, at least a little bit.

If only I could tell someone.

Not that I could hear his or her reply...

Anyway, thanks, Mom. That was really, really, really good.

Friday, February 01, 2002


The title of this entry should tell a lot of people a lot of things already. But for those of you just joining us...

Supposedly a lot of people here in Saratoga think the absolutely most important thing we could possibly do to assure a viable and prosperous future for this town is to build something called a community center.

Why do I say supposedly?

Because the only evidence we have that any significant number of people want such a thing comes out of the Wyoming Rural Development Council's community assessment of Saratoga (my opinion of which I believe I made clear on Tuesday in this very space); through the initial listening sessions and a follow-up meeting or two in which a large group of Saratogans took a stab at prioritizing the mishmash of ideas that came out of those sessions, the number one priority of the whole project turned out to be a community center.

I'm not sure that I would take these results as gospel, however, as more or less the exact same phrasing has come out of more or less the exact same mouths as a more or less automatic response to the ever-tempting question "What do you want/need in Saratoga?" for something like 30 years.

Nonetheless, a committee was formed to start putting it all together and make it happen. It was going to be the first real achievement to come out of this whole process, a justification for the tax and other money spent to make the WRDC and these assessments go, and of the increasingly great amount of time and effort those of us on the steering committee that grew out of the community assessment were putting in.

The only thing this committee has settled on to date is how this facility is to be paid for, that being out of your pocket and mine through the sixth cent capital facilities tax that will either be up for a vote in November or in May of 2003 (depending upon to whom the Carbon County Commission finally decides to listen), a tax that is already going to be huge and long-lasting because its primary purpose is to build a new county jail that can't help being expensive in principle and is steadily becoming more so in practice. As municipal projects large and small for each of the nine incorporated towns in this county get tacked on, the tax gets bigger and bigger. The bigger the dollar amount, the longer we're all paying it off, and, incidentally, the longer we are prevented from developing any other capital projects in the county.

That's not the only problem dogging this community center, either. Actually, it's not even the biggest or most important.

See, what never was settled in the early or the later stages of this thing (plan? project? these words imply too much order and deliberation for it) is what constitutes a community center. Some say what's really needed is a sports center (i.e., indoor pool, raquetball, dwarf-tossing, whatever.). Some say it's a performing arts center (stage, lights, sound, seating). Some say it's a convention or meeting center, with a banquet hall and break-out rooms, etc.

Of course, nobody agrees, and no one is willing to compromise, not even, it appears, to listen to each other. The committee that was going to make this all happen hasn't even bothered to meet since November because the factions are sick of squabbling over what this center is ultimately going to be.

And while a few very vocal, very wise, very passionate people, the kind we are most fortunate to have living here, the kind that I would wish for every community, are still making known the view that this community center has "just got to be built," I don't see any of these vocal, wise, passionate people stepping up to organize an effort.

Indeed, the most common sentiment I have heard expressed in the days since our last Saratoga 3000 meeting has been "You can't let this die, Kate. It's too important. It's not for me to do, but it has to happen."

News flash. It's not for me to do, either, because I don't think this nebulous fantasy facility is a priority at all, even if somehow it winds up not being paid for with tax dollars (a notion that doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone except me and a few of the more realistic members of the Platte Valley Arts Council, who are wisely pursuing their own venture to build a performing arts facility with private donations).

There are a lot of other, more appropriate things to do with the people's money.

Not to beat a dead horse (that I first started whipping in my town council campaign speech in 1999 that none of you were there to hear anyway), but taxes are paid by every citizen, and are paid on a less than voluntary basis. People go along with them, usually grudgingly, because it's better than the alternative (jail, property seizure, having to forgo buying gasoline, food, etc.) and because according to the tacit social contract under which we all live, that money is going to be spent by the government in ways that benefit everyone, to provide things that everyone needs but no one could effectively provide him- or her-self on any other basis: things like roads, police protection, ambulance coverage, water and sewer services, civil and military defense, etc.

A useful nutshell phrase is "protection of citizens from force and fraud" which I would couple with the provision of certain amenities that we in western civilization have come to think of as necessities, like sanitation and running water, roads along which all the goods of our consumer economy can reach us, etc.

Some would make the argument that a sports center or an arts center or a convention center would also benefit everybody, but what they usually mean is "everybody who wants the same things we do." But suppose I don't care for swimming or raquetball or volleyball. Suppose what I really want is a professional grade roller derby arena.

My point is that no facility can satisfy everybody, so inevitably some will get what they want while others will not. Those who don't get what they want will still be forced to pay for the facility – as will those who don't use it at all.

No, when you're getting into something like this, it is a matter for the private sector.

I think there is a niche, a demand for all of these things I have mentioned here. I would love an indoor pool (but, unlike most of those few fellow citizens of mine who are still clamoring for one, I have looked into what it costs to build and maintain one, and have seen that it creates a burden that our present population and tax base cannot currently afford. Not even close! Not even if the indoor pool fairy flew over our town and magically gifted us with one out of thin air. I will provide numbers if anyone who reads me is really interested). I definitely see great potential for a convention center here.

And if some entrepreneur wants to pull it together, raise the capital and build one or more of these wonderful things, more power to him. And since his would be the risk, the effort, the investment, his alone would be the reward – making it worth his while to be absolutely sure he was giving this town's citizens and visitors what they want and would use the most in the long term and the short term (I am leaving alone, for now, what happens down the road when the novelty of the shiny new facility wears off and the tragedy of the commons sets in).

Or, if an individual or group wants to take this on and raise the money privately – if the project you have chosen is truly what the people want, financial support for it will be generous indeed, as the Town of Riverside discovered last year when it put out coin cans to help pay for mosquito spraying and routinely found $20 bills in amongst the spare change. Conversely, if no one is all that interested, raising that money will be proportionately more difficult, perhaps sending a message that something else is wanted.

I would wholeheartedly support either of these ways of getting something built (provided, of course, that there's something in it I like; after all, it's my money, and if someone wants it, they have to persuade me to part with it. That's the way a free society works, folks).

But I will not support some half-assed attempt to build something that only a few noisy people want and a lot of people are going to be forced to pay for. I won't support it and I certainly will not organize or coordinate or spearhead such an effort, as many around town have strongly suggested I do.

If nothing else, folks, shouldn't the person who's leading the troops be someone who believes the battle is one worth fighting?

You wouldn't have put a draft-dodger in charge of the bombing of Kabul, would you?

But I will tell you this: it's going to take someone that actually wants to see this happen, and wants it badly enough to quit flapping his or her jaw and start rolling up his or her sleeves to accomplish anything on this. And if no one steps up, guess what?

Nothing, that's what.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002


A recent discussion on National Review Online about the policies of the New York Times and other papers as to who does and does not get cited as "Dr. So-and-So" provoked one great reader response from a guy who is just learning the pleasures of working closely with young enthusiasts:

“I’ve always thought that the coolest honorific one can have is ‘Coach.’ It was just bestowed on me this year, as I’m coaching my four-year-old’s T-ball team. When you have a bunch of kids and parents calling you ‘Coach [Smith]’ or just ‘Coach,’ it makes you feel pretty good. Forget all that ‘Dr.’ bunk; ‘Coach’ is where it’s at!”

I bet that's true, not that I would really know, of course. While for the first time in my life I am officially an assistant speech and debate coach for my alma mater, Saratoga High School (it's even in the minutes of the January meeting of the Carbon County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees! They formally ratified my hire along with an assistant middle school basketball coach or something. And I'm getting paid to do it! Wough!), I have yet to be addressed by that title. Nor do I get the expected (stuffy, politically correct) "Ms. Sherrod" or the less-expected (stuffy, old-fashioned) (but what I actually prefer, curmudgeon that I am) "Miss Sherrod."

No, what I usually get is "Kate," as in "Oh jeez, we'd better knock it off or we're going to kill Kate" – an actual remark one of my kids made during yesterday's practice.

I still haven't shaken the fishing derby flu entirely, you see, so it's been a little dangerous to make me laugh, as I tend first to wheeze, then to gasp, then to cough, then to choke, all the while making barely audible laugh-like noises and shaking my shoulders while my eyes water and my face turns purple... which is of course a very funny sight and one that is bound to produce further witticisms, which make me laugh more, which produces more choking, etc. on and on ad infinitum until one of my more compassionate charges makes an observation like the one quoted above.

But in the context of speech practice, it's pretty much impossible not to make me laugh!

Those of you who enjoy blooper shows on TV or the outtakes that sometimes run at the end of movies nowadays would really, really love speech practice, the barely controlled chaos of which is like a two hour-long blooper reel every single day.

It takes a certain kind of person to get up and do an oral interpretation, repeating eight or nine minutes worth of the exact same words every day, accompanied with the right tones of voice, character placements, gestures and facial expressions – and invariably, the kind of person who can do all that is a) not going to get it perfect every time, b) going to flub in some wildly amusing, frequently Freudian way, and c) going to react wildly amusingly to said flub.

It's then my job as coach to get that person back on track, which is not easy when said person is still bouncing around in front of me, launched into a five-minute riff on whatever mistake he or she made, its background in the day's events, a plea for cutting out the source of the flub (usually a strange word or a corny phrase), or just a weird little dance... I have one student who sort of hops every time she blows a line, another who trips off in to weird rhymes on whatever word she mispronounced, another who I cured of looking at the floor by means of a note I placed on the floor in front of him that reads "Don't look at the floor, dummy" so now he looks at his duet partner (a no-no in the rules for duet interpretation), still another who starts giggling sort of freakishly whenever I look at him...

Usually the performer rights him- or herself, eventually and we wander back on track, but not before sharing some funky moments for which I would trade nothing in the world.

I can see in their faces that they think I'm the dorkiest thing they've ever encountered, and they're not far from wrong – man, when did speech kids get so cool, so fashionable, so knowing? When I was in high school, my mother rightly referred to my teammates and I as "the nerd herd," and for the most part, it was painfully awkward, out-of-it things that we were, living for the weekends when we could slip into the phonebooth (Okay, a school bus), do our quick change (Okay, drive for six or seven hours to places like Powell or Jackson or Gilette) and be Superman for a day before having to go back to plain ordinary school on Monday – but they indulge me and listen to me and occasionally put my suggestions into practice, which is of course incredibly gratifying.

James Hillman has observed that the reason a lot of people dislike or avoid being around adolescents is because their own adolescences were so painful, and I think that's true. It's a horrible, awkward, scary time for most people and it's natural to want to forget about it or at least avoid any reminders of it more concrete than a nostalgic song. Raising a teenager or being a high school teacher and putting up with all of it all over again at close range is considered heroic largely for this reason.

BUT, there's a lot to be gained for those who put this instinct to avoid aside as I have. Yes, it's really weird to be wandering again the very same halls I hated at age 16, to see on one wall my 18-year-old face peering out of a composite of senior pictures (my hair short and badly cut, my frame shrouded in a huge baggy sweater, my eyes rimmed with smeared eye make-up because I insisted the photo be taken outdoors and I had not yet, at 18, found any real cure for my rampaging pollen allergies... god, I hate that picture, but there it is, for all time) and to see roaming those halls the kids and grandkids of people I've known my whole life as rough contemporaries and friends. It's hard to watch the kids struggling as I struggled, making mistakes I made, expressing opinions I once had but have since outgrown (oh, how many of them tell me how they can't wait to get out of Saratoga! And they don't really see the irony of this at all).

BUT, it's also, as I've already illustrated, really, really fun. There's a lot of good stuff that happens then, too, and it's mostly the good stuff that I get to share as a speech coach. School is out but they're not yet home with mom and dad; they're in a zone in between, semi-autonomous, with room to experiment. And so am I.

And... it gives me a new perspective on my own time within those halls. I see a lot of me, then and now, in a lot of them, and that rekindles my fellow feeling in general, which is always a very good thing.

Yup, coaching is great, with or without the title.

(Of course, I have yet to make a road trip with this crew, so, so... well... all of the above sentiments are probably subject to change. Especially since the head coach, who was once upon a time my coach, still has a lot of bad habits like shopping and McDonalds, two things I still hate. But time will tell on that one. Time will tell. Stay tuned.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2002


I'm fading fast, so I'm just going to give an executive summary.

I think a bunch of my colleagues and I learned a very important lesson tonight: Big, ambitious, worthy projects don't happen because a bunch of people got together and then said "Hey, this is a great group, bet we could really do something with a group like this, uh huh, uh huh" and then said "Okay, so what are we going to do?"

NO. Big, ambitious, worthy projects happen because a need or is perceived for something in particular, and a few people decide that fulfilling that need is so important that it's worth a sacrifice of time and effort (sacrifice in that, in order to do one thing, one is always sacrificing the opportunity, the possibility, to do a hundred other things) to do it, and those people make a plan, and start gathering resources and help and more people, and they do it.

There is nothing more useless than solvers in search of a problem, which is, I'm afraid, what was created when a certain state-level bureaucracy came to town and sold us a top-down bottle of snake oil.

I'm probably going to piss off a lot of people in saying this, but then again, I think a lot of the people who are going to be pissed off are people who weren't at that meeting.

Look, ordinary, dedicated, busy, intelligent, caring people just like (and pretty much including) those in Saratoga 3000 have done some really amazing things here recently. A good example is the Saratoga Community Playground Project, in which a bunch of busy parents put coin cans all over town and had funky little nickel and dime fundraisers and taught themselves to write rather impressive grants and put in a rather impressive brand new playground structure smack in the middle of a local park.

The difference between that group and Saratoga 3000? The problem came first! Not the solvers. Did the Playground Ladies sit around for months and months and stare at each other and say "what should we do with all this abundant free time we have?" No. They knew what they wanted FIRST, decided they wanted it badly enough to roll up their sleeves and do something about it, and then the went out and did it.

Anyway, I challenge any of my readers to tell me one true life success story that started out with a bunch of do-gooders who assembled first and then tried to think of some good to do second. It seems to me, more and more, that such an approach leads at best to some pretty half-assed good, and at worst to a pantload of wasted energy and time.

Certainly, it looks like a very poor method for polis-building.

But I'm trying to keep an open mind about this. So really, dear readers, if you have an example to share, please E-mail it to me.

(Note to my out of town readers: Saratoga 3000 is an ad hoc organization formed after the Wyoming Rural Development Council came to town in November of 1999 and conducted a "community assessment" for Saratoga, an exercise in which WRDC experts of one stripe or another conducted "listening sessions" with various segments of the population in order to "identify" our town's strengths, weaknesses and possibilities, as well as develop some kind of picture of "what people want to see happen here". The WRDC presented the town council and the chamber with a thick, steaming report summarizing what they had learned about us. The report included suggestions for "where to go next" now that we know ourselves, and of course strongly recommended that a committee be formed to act on those suggestions [yes, we're all still getting over the shock of the notion that a government agency recommended forming a committee]. The committee came to be known as Saratoga 3000 about a year later [the name was my idea, and there are still those who mock me for it] after the group finally hashed out that the overall goal would be to get Saratoga's population up to 3000, a figure that research suggests might be a good critical mass for sustainability but is not above what our current infrastructure can support])

Monday, January 28, 2002


...And in the constant reading of orators, historians and poets his intellect took increasing delight in observing between the remotest matters ties that bound them together in some common relation. It is these ties that are the beautiful ornaments of eloquence which make subtleties delightful.

- Giambattista Vico in his Autobiography, Fisch & Bergin translation

...There are three planets... that are extremely favorable to contemplation and eloquence: the Sun, Venus and Mercury. Moving together with equal steps, they leave us when night is coming on and only when the day begins do they rise and revisit us...Thus, those people who study at night when these planets leave us, or who get up in the daytime after sunrise, when these planets are entering into the prison-house of darkness, lose out. On the other hand, those people who at sunrise are there seeking, rising, to contemplate and to write when these planets also rise – only these people think with sharpness, only they can write and compose their work eloquently.

- Marsilio Ficino, Book of Life, Boer translation

One can never serve two masters, and this early morning finds me caught between two formidable ones, my two favorite Italians ever (Vico wrote in the 1720s, Ficino in the 1480s or so). And they're both right. So I'm pretty much screwed.

Most of you who read me know the experience I'm caught in right now: you borrow or buy or steal a new book, dip into it at an odd moment, are intrigued but think you can save it for later, take it easy, let it dissolve slowly into your brain... but then something in it grabs you and won't let you go, and even when you put the book down and away still a part of you is reading it, fully engaged in it instead of what you should be doing, whether that's running a meeting or measuring a fish or sleeping.

A really good book, like either of those from which I've quoted or like the one I'm almost finished reading now at 4:46 a.m. of a Monday morning, makes me see "between the remotest matters ties that bind them." Making connections between what I am reading and have read or watched or seen or written about is more fun than anything; when I really get going I can hardly believe it is my brain at work as the ideas and connections mimic the oysters in "The Walrus and the Carpenter": "thick and fast/they came at last/and more and more and more." Damn! There went another one! Won't they stop?

But of course, I don't really want them to stop. As I've observed before, it's our capacity to be distracted that makes us who we are, keeps our lives interesting and worth the living.

It would be nice, though, to have at some point gone to sleep tonight – not that I didn't try. The book I've been reading, however – I won't go into detail over it now lest this become my most bloated blog entry ever, but it's a nifty new discourse on military history and the rise of Western civilization – went to bed with me and I kept reading it, arguing with it, drawing connections from it to everything from my beloved Ajax (I now have yet another interpretation of him to play with) to the singular phenomenon about a year and a half ago when a group of about 30 untrained and inexperienced Saratoga volunteers spontaneously and without leadership assembled a large and complex array of playground equipment in two days flat.

All that went on in my head at about 2 a.m.

By 2:30 I'd gotten up, taken a shower, gotten dressed, made some coffee, and taken up my book again. I know myself: I'll read right through until I'm late for work (how fortunate that my commute is less than a block!), so I'd best get everything else done before – including, as I realized at about 4 a.m., this blog entry, for I have a very, very busy day today, one in which I have planned to do my very best to catch up on all that didn't get done last week because I was home tripping out on cold medicine. Which means that when my day, at the office and then up at the school (speech practice! I've not even seen my kids in over a week! I'm going straight to coaching hell!), is finally over I'm going to collapse right at my doorstep and luck alone will steer me towards the couch or (less likely) my bed.

And until then I'm going to be a wreck. All because of a new book.

It's unhealthy, so unhealthy to proceed in this fashion, even if you don't believe Ficino (on either a literal or metaphorical basis – either way, it is wisdom). My friends around town who will be getting up in an hour or so will be well equipped to handle whatever this Monday throws at them (and at least a few of them will be annoyingly smug about this fact when I stumble blearily in for coffee in, oh, five hours to see their smiling, perky faces, the jerks) while I'm going to be a complete wreck by lunchtime (though, for once, my hair will be dry at lunchtime) (hey, we take our boons where they're granted).

I'll make it through, though. I always do – this happens rather a lot, I'm afraid. You'd think I'd have learned to deal with it, or prevent it, or minimize it, but I haven't. I just muddle through and trust in all of you to indulge me if I look a little bleary-eyed and occasionally mutter about something not even remotely germane to what we've been talking about.

It just means I've observed another tie between the remotest matters, and am going to lose out because of it.

Sunday, January 27, 2002


Bucking yet another major trend of my generation, recently I took the plunge and actually subscribed to a newspaper. Not a web edition or an e-mail digest, either: an actual, physical, stain-your-fingers, clutter-your-living-room, wrap-your-fish newspaper.

I did that a week ago today.

I started getting it on Wednesday.

Now it's Sunday morning, just past 7 a.m., and I just caught myself pacing and peering out my window and wondering "Where the %#@$& is my newspaper?"

I've been up since 4 a.m. (wages of sin and cold medicine and a wildly irregular schedule) and I've spent most of that time online. I've read most of the New York Times, El Pais (very informative little cartoon there detailing the accommodations at the Gitmo Hilton, where the Taliban/Al Quaeda prisoners are enjoying their surprise vacation HERE, the Washington Post, the Singapore Straits-Times and National Review Online, and Atlantic Unbound (The Atlantic Monthly online), so you could say I'm about as up on current events as anyone without cable TV could wish to be (only thing I miss about cable is C-SPAN. Well, C-SPAN and the Sci-Fi Channel, but C-SPAN was my real addiction; I lost entire weekends to that weird little portal on Washington and other wonk stuff).

So why am I so annoyed that I don't have my Casper Star-Tribune? It's Sunday, for crying out loud! The legislature isn't in session yet (for which we should all give thanks), I don't care about sports particularly (my interest pretty much tops out at the Saratoga and Encampment High School level – except for every four years when I pretty much disappear for the entire month of June to watch the FIFA World Cup) (might have to get cable or something for that. Hmm. Do they offer just one-month subscriptions?), and I've read about all I care to about the state's budget for now. What else will be in there? A follow-up to the alleged Enron suicide? More European protests about our stuffing Koran misreaders into cages in Cuba? Maybe something more about the mostly bad alternatives to just letting people snowmobile in Yellowstone?


No, what's really at issue here has nothing to do with current events and everything to do with basic psychology: one's demands always adjust upwards.

I've gotten used to having that paper right at my doorstep every morning already. It only took four days for newspaper delivery to go from pleasing novelty to basic human right in my head.

Of course, now that the sun is up, another possibility bears investigating: maybe my paper is here and I just couldn't see it in the dark. I'd better go look. Of course, in looking, I know that if I find it the last two hours I've spent reading other material and stewing over its absence will be rendered pretty damned silly... but much of the rest of my life is pretty damned silly anyway, so what's one more morning.

Here I go.

And there it is. Way out on the sidewalk. Almost under my car. I'm going to have to put on a robe and slippers and pad out there in the frost to go get it.

MOST dissatisfying.

There'd better be something good to read.