Tuesday, November 26, 2002


24,539 words as of 9 a.m. today. Only five days and 25,461 words to go. Oy.

Monday, November 25, 2002


At what point, exactly, did it stop being okay to point out a flaw or a problem even if one doesn’t necessarily know the solution?

As I make my monthly rounds of the many, many meetings I attend as chamber chick, town council member, economic development corporation board member and general nosy parker, I’m seeing more and more that the rules of discourse seem to have changed for the worse around here: anyone with a question or a comment or an objection to a plan or an element of a plan is immediately asked “Well, what do you think we should do?” or “Well, what do you think we should put there?” or “I don’t see you coming up with anything better.”

Then, of course, the complaints begin when no one steps forward with any comments, which is patently ridiculous, since the very way these responses, these demands, come out, usually from behind an official-looking table or from a dais on high, effectively squelches commentary, evades the responsibility to actually answer the question posed or address the concern expressed.

It’s a very fascist response, at bottom, to what is supposed to be an open process. I’ve seen it happen, a big ol’ jackboot coming down on my own citizens, at planning commission hearings, at meetings of my own community center board, and most recently in discussions with my chamber board members over whether or not to bring in Sam Western, author of the hottest book to hit Wyoming in decades, Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul as a speaker for our organization’s annual dinner.

I still say that Western has done the best job I have ever seen of pinpointing why we are no nearer now than we were at the time of our statehood to having the kind of independent, self-reliant way of life that we have imagined for ourselves, and he has done so eloquently and vividly and even if all he were to do as a speaker was reiterate what he’s said in his book that would be worth listening to, especially since his book is so scarce.

I am disagreed with, however, because “he doesn’t offer solutions” (Actually, I think he does, but they are subtle and difficult; they involve a statewide re-imagining of ourselves that will not be easily quantifiable in terms of its obvious impact or benefits, but why do you think he invoked the notion of “soul searching” in the books very title, hmm? Soul searching is never a tangible process and rarely yields tangible results, but can you really argue that it is not a process worth engaging in for those reasons?) and so for this reason, along with the fact that he has marked a few sacred cows for the slaughter and is thus likely to piss off a dinner-goer or two, he is apparently dismissible.

If I am walking down the street and have noticed that one of the streetlamps has gone out, is it wrong for me to notify the power company because I don’t know how to fix it? Or is it my responsibility as a citizen and a customer to inform the people who do know how?

Do I only have the right to report the problem if I am also ready to climb the pole myself and do whatever else needs doing to fix it?

As a valley and a society and a state we are diverse enough to allow each of us to fill different niches based on what we do well, what we understand, where we have expertise. And we count on the fact that others do other things well, might know more about a subject than we do, or might have the power to do something that we do not. That’s the way a free society works.

But it works much less well if we are not allowed any capacity to audit one another, or to share our differing points of view, or to call attention to a problem or potential problem that we don’t, ourselves, know how to fix.

Sometimes, we just know that something stinks. Sometimes, we just feel in our guts that we must vote no. Sometimes, we join the Hindu and Buddhist yogis when they say “neti, neti, neti” which translates roughly to “not this, not this, not this.” Sometimes we only know what we cannot abide and there is too much left from which to choose. Sometimes, our mission is only to rule out the intolerable or to point out the flaws. Destruction is part of creation; sloughing off the dead or useless is part of growth; sculpture involves knocking away everything that does not look like a horse or a person or whatever one’s subject may be.

James Hillman, as you might expect, has quite a lot to say on this subject, and I’ll let him have the last word as he supports the notion of kenosis, originally a theological term used to describe Christ’s shedding of his divine power in order to enter the world as a man, now used more generally to denote being “emptied of certainty,” without guarantees.

“Don’t try to replace the helpless frustration you feel, the powerless victimization, by working otu a rational answer. The answers will come, if they come, when they come, to you, to others, but don’t fill in the emptiness of the protest with positive suggestions before their time.”

The answers will come, but they will come in their own time, and demanding that the person who poses the question must also answer it does not hasten that process; it kills it outright by negating the right to question. I believe this still, and I hope enough of you out there do to keep having the bravery to ask why, to say no, to accept uncertainty until certainty again can come.

I promise you all, my constituents, my friends, my readers, that I will accept your “neti, neti, neti” even if you don’t have a corresponding checklist of things to do about it. That is probably mine to find, or if not mind to find, mine to find someone else to find.

I think that’s what leadership really is, isn’t it?