So how does it feel to be outgunned by the biggest story of the year? The first Tuesday of each month is the occasion of WPCA-FM’s broadcast of my short story readings, and last night was the first Tuesday of the month. Also, it was election night. And the election had most likely the highest interest and participation of any election in decades. So who took the time to listen to little ole me? Well, I did. Per usual, I’m critical of my diction, which I think has become pretty sloppy in the half century since I did most of my professional theatre work. I read “Holding The Fort”, a story about the past and prejudice in Apache country in the State of Arizona. It’s a good story. When I read it last month in Amery at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts, one audience member told me afterwards that she wanted to hear a sequel to find out what happened to the characters. Whether it’s turning pages or something like that comment, any author would take that as a positive, a sign of successfully telling a story. On the radio, I’m introduced as a pastor, as well as an author and perhaps people expect some kind of a sermon; but I tell stories. Some have morals, such as the question of whether suicide is brave or cowardly or how to erase poverty or, perhaps it’s the issue of immigration or a May-December relationship or even if angels really exist. In any event, they are simply stories. One story comes to mind that foretold the “#me too” movement; I wrote it several years before that was in the public’s discussion. Another deals with racial discrimination; I wrote it years prior to the time when today’s racial issues are dealt with so openly. How so? Stories come to me, usually in the wee hours of the morning, with the dialogue complete and the basic story scenario set. During the writing, characters can change things, even the direction of the story, as the characters become themselves. Because of that process, I couldn’t ever teach a course in writing.
Wolf Creek United Methodist Church now is on You Tube and Facebook. We have been meeting face-to-face for some weeks now, socially distancing and wearing masks. However, with the rapidly rising case numbers of the virus in Wisconsin and Polk County, we’ve decided to revert to meeting via Zoom for the rest of November. We will decide the last week in November how to handle December. Our plan is to Zoom meet our Sunday service and then broadcast it via Facebook and You Tube, We’ll see how it goes. I Zoom from my office here at the house. Meanwhile, the weather this week is unusually warm, following an unusually cold spell, so I’ve been able to get outside and finish raking the leaves that were covered by an early 5 inch snowfall, as well as cut up and split some more downed trees for Winter firewood. The wood stove made things cozy last night while I tracked the election results.
On the church front, we now are on YouTube and shared on Facebook, so people who can’t quite make it to an 8:15 a.m. Sunday morning service can catch us anytime. We have been meeting at Wolf Creek United Methodist Church face to face ( er, mask to mask) for five or six weeks lately and things are going well. Some people are not comfortable yet with going out among people, so we don’t see them in person. As I write this, Polk County sits at 319 confirmed cases and two dead. We don’t know how many of those 319 cases are in the hospital, but the number has been climbing. And yes, we are better at keeping people alive than at the beginning of the pandemic, so that helps keep the number of deceased low. Last month Marina and I had the first person die that we knew, a good friend of some thirty years. Yes, she had many health conditions, but so did her husband, who got the virus, along with one of their daughters, both of whom are still alive and functioning well.
On the writing front, after some publicity about the release of the “mangled” fairy tales in paperback and e-book formats, sales have risen, as has readership via Kindle’s library option and some promoting by me on Amazon. I’ve also sold books in-person to people who heard some of the stories read. And speaking of that, I’ve had an initial discussion about possibly reading some stories as a fund raiser for the Milltown Library. The Library is looking for help to pay for its recent expansion. You may know that twice now I’ve read stories as a fund raiser for St.Croix Festival Theater. They’ve said they hope I’ll return to do more. Also, I was one of several authors that read as a fund raiser for Amery’s Classic Theater. I read “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, which columnist Peter Kwong called “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. Kwong is pretty funny himself, so I really appreciate his evaluation. (Beats the review I mentioned last month in this space!)
As I write this, my chainsaw is in the shop, hopefully learning how to keep going when I tackle the logs that are down in the back of our property. The beach property line dispute is going to an appeal; the many property owners involved feel that the airline pilot to our south got not only more than he expected, but what he wasn’t entitled to in the first place. Attention to that matter, as our newest spokesperson, and my duties as president of the Osceola Senior Citizens Club keep me more than busy. Then there are the routine things of life as it goes on. And then there is the challenge of weekly sermons: to find something that speaks to what people deal with today, something that is meaningful, something worth listening to. Some weeks, that ain’t easy!
Well, whaddya know, the first review is in for “Some Mangled Fairy Tales” and, to my dismay, the book is being reviewed as a book for kids. It never was intended for children. When I was asked which age groups in school might find the stories of interest, I said kids aged fifth grade to 12th could understand it. But the stories are for adults. I’m not sure how to correct things now, but what is, is (to echo the words of one of our political leaders). At any rate, the review itself gave the book three stars out of a possible four. I should be grateful.
Hola! Tonight I’m reading “Holding The Fort”, a story from the paperback “The Second Gathering of the Break Time Stories”, which includes it from the ebook titled “Four More Break Time Stories”. The story takes place in Fort Thomas, Arizona and was written long before Black Lives Matter and Every Life Matters became common phraseology. Last Tuesday night WPCA-FM broadcast my reading of “Number Eleven Oakwood Lane”, a story also included in the two books mentioned above. Listening to the broadcast, even if I were not the author, I’d still say that Oakwood is a damn good story. I think “Holding” is, too, and tonight should verify that. What with the Virus, we’ll see if we have much of an audience at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. On the other hand, our news releases said there is plenty of room for social distancing.
Also, I have some copies of the newest paperback, “Some Mangled Fairy Tales”. I’m pleased; technically, it is the best of the three paperbacks, in terms of mistakes caught, formatting and appearance. I’ve sent out some copies to be reviewed and I’m hoping that the reviews match the giggles and guffaws those stories have received wherever I’ve read them. Today, with all that is going on and the stress people are feeling, we can use some laughter and I’m hoping that those stories can offer some relief and a bit of light-heartedness.
So now the “mangled” fairy tales are published, both in paperback and on kindle! The Kindle book goes for $2.99; you can get the the paperback for $10 from Amazon. I’m planning to send the book to be reviewed by several reviewers, as I’m pretty confident about it because of the consistent laughter and constant giggles whenever I’ve read those stories in public. The title for both the paperback and the kindle book is “Some Mangled Fairy Tales”. The stories: Little Red Hoodie, Jack and the Bean Sprouts, The Many Trials, Hansel and Gertie, Sinner Ella, and Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs.
The end of June and the entre of July have been hot and steamy. I’ve been a bit steamy, too: the struggle with trying to get the six “mangled” fairy tales into their own paperback has not been going smoothly. The book’s margins just won’t obey! When I have another spasm of patience I’ll go at it again.
Meanwhile, Parkview and I have finished our course together. For me, it has been a very fine experience, even with having to do services for most of our tenure via Zoom. Parkview is a fine congregation with many people of faith and great potential, even with the changes wrought in our society. I pray good things for them. And at Wolf Creek we are trying to figure out how to expand our tent with virtual reach-outs. The church building is down in the hollow of Wolf Creek and cellular phone service is skimpy–but we are working on it.
Saturday, August 8th, I will be reading two stories at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. The event time is 7:30 p.m.
Since our last get-together, there has been plenty to talk about. Wolf Creek United Methodist Church had planned an earlier-than-recommended re-opening, but ultimately I was uncomfortable with that schedule and decided to postpone re-opening until (probably) June 14th. That’s still a week earlier than the Wisconsin Conference recommends. We did have a plan that we will follow with good safety provisions. Six of the people who have been with us on Zoom are unlikely to return in person early and I suspect we all will be wearing masks for some time to come. As of today, Polk County has jumped to 22 recorded virus cases with still a single death. Any Memorial Day spike should show itself soon.
Some of you know that when we bought our place here on Bone Lake we bought–unknowingly–into a lawsuit over property rights down at the shared beach. That case has cost each of us plenty in legal fees and now has gone to an appeal. There has been plenty of stress over this for me and not just financial: we have had to draw an end to our participation in legal matters, while some neighbors have decided to continue. Up until now, we have supported the effort, both in person and financially, and I hope those who continue the fight will recognize that.
On top of these items, I see a family member apparently committed to follow her mother’s example of self-suicide by lifestyle choices. It makes me angry. Intellectually, I know that, as Marina’s office poster said, “People don’t change because they see the light; they change when they feel the heat.” This is a prayer focus for me.
My 4 1/2 months pastoring Parkview United Methodist Church in Turtle Lake has been frustrating because it really can’t be done with justice at 1/4 time but also the lockdown has limited me to phone calls and our Zoom get-togethers. As my pastor colleagues will attest, pastoring under lockdown conditions has resulted in more work, rather than less, and I’ve found that to be true working with two congregations, even 1/4 time each. (Quarter time is what you’re paid for.) I have come to know some fine people at Parkview, people of strong faith who are willing to share it and show it through their works. I would have loved to have pastored Parkview in the years prior to my retirement. Their new pastor, Adam Woods, looks like a very good appointment; I pray that things go very, very well for him and his family and the Parkview congregation.
As you will note elsewhere, WPCA-FM will begin re-runs of my story readings in July. We have recorded 25 stories thus far and I am grateful to the station (Bob and LuAnn Zank, especially) for giving me an opportunity few writers ever get. The fact that the station streams online means that anyone anywhere with the internet can listen. What fun!
The churches have been meeting via Zoom. Being the superb “techie” that I am, many services have had a ragged start because I seem to have trouble getting things going. I can’t remember how I got us going the last time, so sometimes I’m lucky and other times we are a few minutes into our allotted time before I can admit anyone at all. I’ll like things better when all I’ll need is someplace to stand in order to sock it to the faithful. I miss the sound of good singing; on Zoom, everyone is out of sync.
On other fronts, my office project is just about finished, with some sheet rocking to do around one of the windows and a closet to build. I’ve been laying bricks for a patio outside the lower level door and after about 400 bricks hauled here, loaded and unloaded by yours truly, I’m about half finished. I’d like to get that project done because there are trees to cut up and split for Winter’s firewood. The dock got in last weekend. This is the first year I’ve not done it myself but I figured it’s OK to make a concession to age. Marina reminds me: “Remember, Mark, you’re not 75 anymore!” The pontoon needs the tilt motor replaced and should be delivered sometime soon–unless the motor comes from China.
Last night WPCA broadcast my reading of “The Driveway”, which is the second story in my first collection, “Four Break Time Stories”. It sounded good, with some suspense building and even the authentic capturing of pregnancy and its fears. Next month I’m guessing the station will broadcast–and stream– “Conversations In Absentia”, a tale dealing with whether suicide is heroic or cowardly and how four guys wrestle with that question. The boat in the story? Yes, it’s modeled on the “Dilly IV”, a cabin cruiser I had half a century ago that I didn’t know I couldn’t afford.
The lockdown has not disrupted our routine much, save for not getting Marina to Osceola twice a week to swim. That change has meant I’ve had more time here to do what needs doing. I’m happier with the progress. Oh, today’s excitement was a call from one of our banks querying about a check that is fraudulent. I wrote it last August to the Hollywood High School Alumni Association. It was made out for $25 for dues. May 1st someone cashed it for $2,500. I admit, the signature is better looking than mine, but the bank caught it and tomorrow I trek over to the Polk County Sheriff to give them the information from the bank. I hope they catch the gal (it’s made out to a female) who did the con. In any event, the check would have bounced, as I rarely have that much money unspent. Meanwhile, Marina and I wear our masks when out in public, sanitize our hands and wash them a lot, and I try not to pick my nose.
Both Wolf Creek United Methodist Church and Parkview United Methodist Church have been conducting our Sunday services via Zoom. It does connect many of us, but we miss those people who are not online and can’t access their church family that way. I miss the music, too. But this, too, shall pass and I think all of us look forward to being able to see each other in person again. Personally, I intend to do more focus on a single item in the day’s scriptures, rather than the gloss over all the Bible selections that are read. I sense it’s a little “much” for people when I slide from one point of emphasis to another to another; not much sticks.
On other fronts, I wore a mask yesterday to the grocery store, post office and hardware stores. Fortunately, I can read everything but small print without my glasses–I keep them on my face so I know where they are, rather than having cheaters on a chain or in a case somewhere that I have to find–so that in the truck I can figure out what I just spent in the store. WPCA-FM had me on yesterday morning as part of its fund drive and I enjoyed a rollicking conversation with Bob Zank, the station manager, that I hope brought in more listeners last night to my story reading. Last night’s story was “Curtain!”, a tale based largely on experiences in my youth in Hollywood. The station broadcasts and streams online my story readings the first Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.. (CST).
I have managed to finish the walls of my office, with the heavy sheet rocking giving me a hernia I’m going to wait to have taken care of until things settle down at the local hospital. I’m in the process of building shelves in a large closet and I’m also about to begin building a large clothes closet in the far corner of the office. The post office trip involved sending off the latest 13 national ad series for a client I’ve had for more than 30 years. Meanwhile, Spring is on the way and there are things outside to do. Neither Marina nor I are sitting around waiting to die.
This Sunday I’ll try something new: a mini-service via Zoom, with scripture readings, prayer in response to sharing joys and concerns, and a brief mediation. This, because services at Wolf Creek and Parkview United Methodist Churches have been suspended for a couple of weeks, with decisions being made the week prior to Palm Sunday about how to proceed in the face of the coronavirus. I used Zoom for the first time the other night with Alice and her family down there in Ohio and I just hope it works well on Sunday. Zoom is a bit like a conference call: you log in and share video and audio, so I should be able to hear joys and concerns from others.
WPCA-FM has asked if I want to come to the station during Holy Week some morning so that listeners who hear my short stories broadcast that might want to meet me can meet me. I think I’ll find the time to do that. Actually, I’ve sold some books lately, both in person and online. I like the feeling of that!
Son John and his family arrived home last night from a stint at Isla Mujeres in Mexico. He commented on how strange it was to drive deserted streets. No word of hassles re-entering the country but I’m sure I’ll hear more when I have a chance to catch up with him. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying fun correspondence Marina shares with me of her exchanges with moppet granddaughter Samantha, who’s down in Ohio. Son Aaron says he’s in lockdown over in Portugal, even as he lives isolated on his mountain. No big change for homeschooling Mom, Hannah, who’s used to having her kids at home and even has college daughter Klara home again until semester’s end. Alice says that she now has great admiration for her sisters who home schooled; this, after just a day having her kids home from school and doing school work.
My “home work” has involved finishing the sheet rocking project in my office. The south wall is almost done and when that happens it’s on to constructing a large closet in the southwest corner of the room and installing shelves in the existing closet. Then, it’s enclosing part of the stairwell, installing some electrical outlets, re-doing awkward closet doors in the entry hall and then putting in a wooden floor in the dining area. The tiling for the entryway probably won’t happen this summer; I want to PLAY more!