Saturday, May 17, 2003


I am seriously wigged out by this whole Stephen Glass thing.

For those of you who have been busy fishing or running your businesses or otherwise not being media junkies, Stephen Glass is a writer of approximately my age and education who has recently published a novel, The Fabulist, that has caused quite an uproar, pious and otherwise.

See, before he made his true bullshitting aspirations known, he was a feature writer of some repute, in demand at such tony, elite publications as George, Harper's and The New Republic, as well as stuff like Rolling Stone. His articles were pithy, slightly wacky, attention-getting, timely, and more or less completely fabricated, as it turns out.

He was finally called to the carpet when another journalist from another magazine tried to follow up on something he'd published and found that the people he'd quoted not only didn't say what he said they did, but could never have said anything to him because - they didn't exist!

So he went home to Chicago to lick his wounds and hide out with his parents and while there in hiding, wrote this book which he claims is a novel but which is clearly only the most thinly disguised of memoirs, all about how the protagonist, Stephen Glass, deceived his editors and the public and showed everyone up as an ass, including, finally, himself.

Part of me is just plain outraged about this, and stunned. Mine is a failure of imagination, here, I suppose. I just can't figure out how a person could do what this guy did, first of all. Lack of conscience? Lack of respect for the consequences? Brain damage? I don't know. I also can't believe no fact-checker - all of these magazines he used to write for employ at least one person in this role - ever caught on to him before publication... which makes me wonder, did somebody catch him earlier on and let it slide? Either out of laziness or because he was boosting circulation?

Ow. My stomach. Seriously.

Making matters worse, I can't help worrying, as I begin my own hobo scribe career in earnest, what kind of damage this joker has done to me and others like me before we even really get started.

Now, I don't have anything in my writing career to apologize for. I have never misquoted a source, never made anything up, and can back up absolutely everything that has ever seen print with my name on it. I learned this ethos at My Own Dear Personal Mom's knee and it has served me very, very well. I shall never abandon it.

But... how to show this to editors who do not yet have a relationship with me? Out in the great global marketplace I am making my first steps towards entering, the fact that tough cookies like, say, the Oracle have, historically and without hesitation, trusted me enough to give me interviews they hesitate to grant other writers in this valley, is not all that meaningful. My editors-to-be don't know the guys who trust me any better than they know me. For all they know, I've made them up.

I'll overcome this, of course, should it become an issue. My work stands for itself, and my methods and commitments have not changed. Once the initial "why should I pay you to write about this thang and not some other guy" hurdle is cleared, this will come through to my future editors and they will appreciate what I bring to their papers.

It's just going to be a harder sell, now.

If any of you, my dear readers (especially those of you who tend to nag me on the street when I haven't published here for a few days), ever happen to meet this Glass character, please, please, please, please, please give him a good clout in the snoot for me.

OK, back to the serious stuff. Another important aspect of making it as a hobo scribe: honoring deadlines.

And boy have I got 'em.

Sunday, May 11, 2003


It's rare in my experience that anything one has been anticipating lives up to the expectations of one's hopeful imagination.

It's even more rare when those expectations were exceeded.

Such was my experience in meeting Sam Western, the man to whom the Casper Star-Tribune and a little publishing firm who originally didn't expect to sell more than 1200 copies of Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's Search for its Soul both owe tidy little revenue streams if for no other reason than sheer gratitude for, in the CST's case, filling its opinion page newsholes for months, and in Homestead Publications' case, raising that company's profile like nothing else could, maybe ever. Of course he'll never see those revenue streams; part of the suckiness of being a writer. So it is.

I'm amused rather than angered at the defensiveness he's uncovered, the attacks he's drawn with this and his speaking engagements. It's mostly old hat stuff - we all persist, for example, in insisting that it's not okay for a person to diagnose a problem unless he himself also has a cure (a perspective that is more defensible in a small and underpopulated state like ours, in which everyone who cares at all is wearing multiple hats, juggling multiple vital projects, constantly evaluating the impact of our actions, and as such a place in which to ask for change or help is to essentially demand immediate reprioritization and sacrifice from those whose attention is sought. "Hey, stop struggling to keep your business running/raise money to build your building/coach your child's tee ball team while also finishing your associates degree and listen to me and do what I want you to do."), that it's unfair to blame the problems of a state and state of mind on one industry or sector, that this analysis or that is flawed because it doesn't include what *I* think is the most important issue or accomplishment, etc.

And the defenders of the work and the call to attention that Sam has made insist first of all that it's great that he's started this discussion, that it needed to happen, blah blah blah, and even where he's "wrong" he's accomplished much in just bringing these ideas to the forefront of that rare, rare thing, a statewide debate.

Remember that all important sub-title to the work: Wyoming's Search for its Soul. That's key stuff, it really is.

We're in an enviable position in Wyoming, in Saratoga in particular. Yes, we've taken hits, yes we're losing young people, yes, yes, yes, things have looked better, we seem poised to go through another boom and bust and none of that looks enviable.

BUT... we have a chance, here, to do something that not a lot of communities have really gotten to do. Because we have a history of being very, very stubborn, because we have clung to our mythos and our open spaces and our way of life, we have succeeded in ducking progress for a good 50 years. That ain't all bad, folks -- because while progress and the new economy and the economic boom the rest of the country enjoyed recently passed us by, we also got to watch and learn from our neighboring states' mistakes, didn't we? We've watched nasty trends in land development and speculation ruin what most of us have liked about places like the Steamboat Springs area of Colorado, for example. From a slight distance we've seen it happen, seen how it happened, and resolved as a people that it isn't what we want.

We have bad examples all around us from which to learn.

The challenge now is putting the wisdom we've gained into practice.

And that truly is where Sam's work comes in. Agree with him, disagree with him, call him a hero or a schmuck, whatever you please. But please, also accept the invitation he and his followers are extending: to dream.

What is most vital in searching for Wyoming's soul is imagination, the will to dare to envision what we do want and start trying out ways of making it happen, knowing that not all of them are going to work but that the law of averages and the weird will of the gods and the bizarre collective unconscious of humanity pretty much guarantee that some of them will, though maybe not exactly the way we thought they would.

The alternative is the mixture same as before, a culture of complaint and quiet desperation as the world passes us by.

We don't have to be like the rest of this world. But if we want to be our own thang, sooner or later we have to decide what that is and get off our collective asses and made it happen.

One last thought before I sign off today and go spend the rest of Mother's Day with My Own Dear Personal Mom: Sam has been criticized by a lot of you for just what I'm haranguing about today: not having a vision, a prescription (though I think he does and many readers are missing it, perhaps willfully). Others see a vision there and hate it. Hey, that's okay.

The thing people seem to want to forget that no one in the history of history itself has ever completely gotten his own way. Even Caligula in the end ran into Jung's version of god, that which crosses one's willful path.

You all are as free as he is, as I am, to dream and to try to make those dreams come true. And because we don't all dream alike, no one can ever really sweep and trump the will of the rest.

But the ones whose dreams do wind up carrying the rest of us in their currents are the ones who roll up their sleeves, grab the oars, and row, row, and row -- despite what the dead weight passengers in the stern bitch about.