Scott McInnis: The waterlogged years (Pt. 3)

In our continuing analysis of the water musings cranked out by Scott McInnis during his two-year, $300,000 fellowship, one inescapable question emerges -- the same question that confronts the weary slush-pile editor after wading through stacks of really bad writing:

Has anybody else ever tried to read this stuff?

As noted in our previous commentary on the McInnis prose style here and here , the Hasan Family Foundation paid roughly $2,000 a page for a series of soggy "articles" from McInnis during the lull between his years in Congress and his current gubernatorial bid.

I say "roughly" because the 150 pages put online by the Denver Post include at least one four-page snoozer that's posted twice -- not that anyone would notice.

What did the Hasans get for their money? Writing that would have trouble passing muster in a high school geography class -- a repetitious, rambling and generally shapeless excursion through "fun facts" of Colorado water law, history and topography that turn out to be not fun and heavily padded. Much of it is so embarrassingly basic in subject matter and inept in execution that you wonder who the hell was supposed to be the audience for this extravagantly priced pabulum. For instance:

"The Colorado River is the primary River of the Southwest part of Our Nation. It is called the 'River of Rivers' because of its importance in some of the most arid lands in the Americas... Do you know the name of 'Rio Colorado'? That was the name, given by the Spanish, to a portion of what we now know as the 'Colorado River.' Colorado is 'Red' in Spanish. It was called the Rio because of the Reddish color that dominated the River..."

No, Señor Snore, I'm pretty sure it was called the Colorado because of the reddish color, but who am I to contradict a $2,000-a-page man?

The only point at which McInnis ventures more than a big toe beneath the surface of water issues occurs about two-thirds of the way through this tripe. He wakes from his encyclopedia-cribbing somnambulism long enough to enter a manic phase that consumes dozens of pages, devoted to exploring the history, personalities and intrigues (such as they are) surrounding the creation and operation of Green Mountain Reservoir. He seems to have actually done some archival research here, or at least read some articles somewhere that referenced an archive or two.

But he rides this goofy hobbyhorse into the ground, to no particular effect, wrapping up his survey of the tussles over the reservoir with some bland observations about how the more things change, the more they remain the same... history repeats itself, you know... it's repeating itself right now... what, you think I'm repeating myself? I repeat, history repeats....

And that brings me back to the question of the day. Was this whole exercise simply an opportunity for McInnis to amuse himself with some make-work, or was it supposed to be for popular consumption? In a a memo to foundation chairwoman Seeme Hasan, written halfway through his fellowship, McInnis remarks:

"The articles have been carefully documented, proofed and again at your insistence, written at a level that non-water experts could easily understand. The Foundation felt strongly that we should reach as broad of audience as we could and that in doing that the effort should be tailored for basic water and public land introduction."

"As broad of audience as we could" -- so much for proofreading. But clearly, there was some expectation that the McInnis articles would actually be published somewhere. There's even a hopeful note at the end that a rural electric quarterly might run one or more of the musings.

That doesn't seem to have happened. None of the McInnis musings appear to have run on any op/ed pages I could find -- or in rural electric magazines, either. He did give a few talks, based on his musings, to rotary clubs and even one state planning group. But the effort seems to have fallen far short of the grand goal of reaching a broad audience with the articles themselves.

So, to sum up the transaction: McInnis got three hundred grand, the right to call himself a (jolly good) Fellow, and the chance of a lifetime to pursue his consuming interest in the epic tale of Green Mountain Reservoir. The Hasan family got a former Congressman and possible future governor to spread some very limited good will on behalf of their foundation -- and about 50,000 words of unpublishable drivel.

Sounds like a sweet deal all around.

Thank you. Until next time.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast