Russell Rowland

What I Learned from Greg Gianforte

Like most Montanans, I have watched the Congressional race between Greg Gianforte and Rob Quist with a combination of horror and fascination. Gianforte is full-on right wing fundamentalist, who has poured big money into a creationist museum here in Montana, and has stated that Noah built the ark when he was 600 years old, so there’s no reason people should expect social security. After spending the past few years traveling every corner of our state and reading about our history for my most recent book, Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey, I saw Gianforte as a reincarnation of many of the more nefarious characters in our state’s history—namely, men who have come here and benefited from our resources to make themselves very very wealthy. Quist is an amiable fellow, part of one of the most successful bands to come out of Montana, but many in the Democratic ranks were disappointed he was chosen over Amanda Curtis, who gave Steve... Read More

Costly Errors

About fifteen years ago, I made what turned out to be a costly error in judgement. Harpercollins made me a generous offer on my second novel, which I hadn’t written yet. But I was still flush with newly published writer egomania, to that point where I wasn’t quite satisfied with their offer. For one thing, I was hoping the second book would come out in hardcover, for reasons that I can’t even explain now. But it was important to me at the time. After meeting both my editor and my agent for lunch to talk about the offer, my editor told me that he thought he could probably come through with the hardcover deal if we waited until I finished the book. But that meant I would have to turn down their current offer. So I did. And I’ve been paying for it ever since. There were two things I didn’t know at the time. One was that you can never count on an editor, especially a young, recently hired editor, to stay at a major publisher. The... Read More

Bleak Tuesday

A few months ago, a friend of mine said something wise, in a conversation completely unrelated to the election: ‘If you cross a narcissist, you have to be prepared for them to do everything they possibly can to smear your reputation.” I have had enough narcissistic tendencies myself to understand the temptation, the desire to give in to that kind of vengeful behavior. But I usually don’t, and there’s only one reason for that. It’s because I have learned what it feels like to be on the other side of it, and karma is something more than the first word of a clever phrase; it really is a bitch. I have had dealings with several flaming narcissists in recent years, and extracting myself from their sphere of influence was hard. Because part of me knew it was going to cost me, and part of me was a coward about facing those consequences. But in the end, I did it because I couldn’t stand being used any longer. I couldn’t stand feeling... Read More

Why I’m a Democrat

I have never declared myself to be a Democrat on a public forum, and part of the reason is because I get tired of the way people make broad statements about other parties, as if each and every Democrat believes and supports exactly the same things. But the fact is, I am a Democrat. What’s interesting about that is that the older I get, the more my support for that party has to do with money. People assume that being a Democrat means you believe putting huge money into welfare programs and cutting back on military, etc. And part of me supports those ideas, but that’s not the core of my beliefs. The reason I’m a Democrat is because our history has shown that the structure that stimulates the economy more than any other is when we give our people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Eisnhower’s Marshall Plan, even some of Reagan’s economic policies were geared toward creating an infrastructure... Read More

The Great Orange Hope

After months of puzzling and study, I think I’ve finally figured out what the Republican candidate for president and his followers have in mind when they say they want to make America great again, and it’s way more simple than I imagined. What they want is to go back to a time when women and minorities suffered in silence. When white heterosexual males ruled the land and everyone else was careful and afraid. The Colin Kaepernick controversy has really brought this to light in a way that wasn’t clear to me before. Here we have a thoughtful young man who is risking a very lucrative career to express an opinion about what’s happening to people who look like him in this country. Despite what his detractors claim, he has never once said he’s been mistreated, never once said that he’s against the flag, the military, or America itself. He simply took on the responsibility as a young man who is in the public eye to start a healthy... Read More

An Open Letter to Bernie Fans

First and foremost, I applaud you for bringing passion back to politics. Especially to the more liberal aspects of politics. I have been wondering for years what it would take to get young people angry enough to take a stand on some of the issues that seem important in today’s America. And Bernie has addressed many of these issues with a direct and logical and enthusiastic approach that is fabulous. So thank you for making many of these issues relevant again. This may surprise you, but a lot of us get it. Bernie is right about many things. Because it’s common sense, right? Making sure the wealthy are held accountable. Making sure the poor have every opportunity possible. Making sure people are treated with the respect they deserve. How could we not want that? I was very much in Bernie’s camp at the beginning of his campaign. Because he brought back memories of some of the politicians that first inspired me in my younger days—people... Read More

Bullies

Knowledge is power. That’s what they tell us. But lately, I have been experiencing an overwhelming sensation that the more I know, the more powerless I am. The more I know, the more it feels as if America is becoming a meaner place, a place where being poor and insignificant in the eyes of those in power means that you simply don’t matter. I know that this has always been true to some extent, and not just in America. But I used to assume that the stories you heard about people suffering because of the system were exceptions. Not the rule.   When twenty-six people die in an American schoolhouse, and the country raises its voices for change, and those with the power to help prevent this kind of thing tell us that they would prefer to keep things the way they are, there is really only one way to interpret that. In their eyes, a few people dying is not important. In their eyes, keeping things the way they are is more important than... Read More

Miles Community College Commencement Speech

When I was a kid, I spent part of every summer at my grandparents’ ranch just fifteen miles north of Alzada, about a hundred and fifty miles from here. To me, the Arbuckle Ranch was the biggest playground in the world, a place full of wonder and mystery, the complete opposite of my boring suburban life in Billings. One summer day when I was about eight, my grandparents took me to spend the day at the neighbors’, who had a boy my age. Kelly Kornemann was a typical ranch kid. He was quiet but friendly, with a dry wit and a great sense of adventure. When I went to visit Kelly, I always knew it was going to be a good day. On this particular day, Kelly asked me whether I’d ever ridden a calf. “Of course!” I said. This was a lie. But I was a Montana kid, and my dad was on the college rodeo team in Bozeman, where I was born. He was even a rodeo clown until my mother made him stop when he got stepped on by a bull just a few months after... Read More

Forgiveness

When my father passed away in March 2013, it was the first time I’d seen my younger brother in almost six years. The details of why are not important, but basically, we had become entangled in a business relationship that was ill advised at best, and it ended badly. We had not had any contact at all during those six years, and I had spent a good portion of my time trying to set aside the natural human tendency, especially when something hurts deeply, to look for a way to blame my brother for what happened. I knew I had made mistakes, and I wanted to be ready, should the opportunity present itself, to apologize, and to open the door to healing what was once a very strong friendship. So by the time I saw him again, I had managed to let go of most of the anger over how our relationship soured. I was open to good things happening. I hugged him when I first saw him, hoping that this would set the mood. We spent a lot of time together in the... Read More

The Artistic Soul

About a dozen years ago, my parents submitted an application to take part in a street fair in San Francisco, down in the Marina district, and were very pleased to be accepted. So they packed up their best works, drove down to San Francisco and prepared for the two-day event. I could tell my father was excited about this opportunity. He had been making metal sculptures and stained glass art for years, and had mostly given it away to friends and family, only occasionally showing it in local fairs in Montana. This would be a chance to expose his talents to a wider audience, and to perhaps even make some pocket change for all the hours he had spent in his garage, hunched over his welding machines. I was living in San Francisco at the time, so I agreed to help out, and for two full days, we sat in one of a long row of booths featuring everything from intricate wood carvings to kitschy wine corks with ceramic disks glued to their tops.   And... Read More