History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, April 28, 2014

"I could write a book" but probably will not

I do a lot of writing but could I write a book? I remember buying a book by Dave Barry and being disappointed. Dave gained fame as a column writer. He's funny. Often he makes serious points under that humor.
Perhaps all writers have illusions about being a novelist. It didn't seem to work with Barry, at least not with the book I tried.
I am trying not to harbor any illusions. I did no writing at all in the three and a half years after I left the Morris newspaper. Maybe it took me that long to realize that writing could be fun again. Reflecting on my newspaper "career," I would hardly know where to begin. I use quotes with "career" because it was cut short.
The newspaper job allowed me to say I was not unemployed. Beyond that I'm not sure the dividends were much beyond marginal. I made my rounds on the weekend of the UMM goalpost incident, just trying to mind my own business, and got swept up in the vortex of ill feeling in the aftermath of that. It might have led to my departure from the newspaper. If you say "hooray" to that, good for you. You can now enjoy your once-a-week Morris newspaper with its mountain of advertising pulling everyone to shop in Alexandria. Sometimes I feel like I might be the only sane person in an insane asylum.
Which reminds me, I will be posting soon about the Kirkbride building in Fergus Falls - a fascinating subject. I have occasion to visit Fergus Falls because a family member is seeing a medical specialist there for a non-life-threatening situation. It's a nice trip - a straight shot north on Highway 59.
Click on the permalink below to read a 2010 post I wrote reflecting about the horribly infamous UMM goalpost incident:
I had fair opportunity to show my writing ability in the first five (or so) years of being with the Morris newspaper. The first big iceberg that came along, was being burdened with an unreasonable amount of photographic darkroom work. When I started at the paper, the paper literally owned just one camera. It was a Pentax SLR and it was already obsolete. It had a light meter system where you looked for a little "needle" getting into a "notch" which told you the camera had its exposure set right.
I will always feel bitter about how rapidly photo technology changed with both the cameras and that notorious "darkroom." Photography then was what we'd call an "analog" system today. It was a pre-digital world. Put it on a level with caveman paintings.
I had taken 3-4 photography courses while in college. I learned to develop prints using a series of pans. That system was already obsolete when I started at the paper. "Stabilization processing" was underway. No one ever told me that the deactivator was so potent, if you spilled a drop on the floor it would eat a hole all the way to China. OK I exaggerate a little.
These same chemicals were used for phototypesetting paper. We had typesetters dump exhausted chemicals down the sink all at once, which likely explains why we had plumbing problems. One day the plumber put some chemical down the sink that caused a major reaction through the back shop. We had layout pages in front of us. The phototypesetting paper on those pages almost instantly began turning brown. We literally finished our layout outside the building. Our custodian wondered whether we might have had health effects.
Chemicals and their limited lifespans were on the corner of our mind always. I remember a salesman coming into the darkroom once and telling me "every chemical in this room is deteriorating every minute."
It's interesting to remember this "analog" world because today, in the blissful digital scene, there are no chemicals. You can take a hundred photos at Prom and sift through them on a computer screen with really no labor at all. I used to have to change clothes before going into the darkroom.
For some reason, when I first started at the paper in 1979, we were taking very few pictures. Was the Jimmy Carter economy that bad? A car dealer ad might include only 5-6 pictures. Years later an ad might include 50. I visited these car dealers every week. Sometimes I got a little impatient because I just had to - I had other work to try to get done. I got a dressing-down more than once from car salesmen who got fed up with me.
Sometimes I'm amazed at how often people buy cars. I once asked a car salesman, after I had taken about 40 pictures of cars many of which were only 2-3 years old, why such seemingly still-new cars were being traded in. The nice man gave me an answer that had something to do with finances. I guess I'm eccentric because I drive a car until it's too old to drive anymore.
It is amazing the Morris Sun Tribune even pretended to get by with one camera for a time. The onset of the "point and shoot" camera changed that. Previously, cameras were clunky and expensive. A new chapter was about to open. New cameras would be cheaper and more portable. The point and shoot camera had the look of an "amateur" camera. People assumed that a professional newspaper photographer would be above that.
I remember when Matt Blair of the Minnesota Vikings was a guest at the county fair, and he smiled and teased me a little for having a point and shoot.
Forget the knee-jerk impression, the new cameras were quite practical. Well, pretty soon the Sun Tribune came into possession of 3-4 of these, and the unfortunate result was staffers taking too many pictures on too many cameras. I developed countless rolls of film that had only 3-4 shots on them. It was inefficient and expensive.
We didn't have deadlines during the week for when film would be developed. Because we were putting out "special sections" more frequently, pictures had to be developed more often. The end result was that I became considerably bogged down in the darkroom. Writing became almost an afterthought to me. After a while I just thought in terms of getting my paycheck every two weeks and abandoned all standards completely. You might say I spent the last 20 years of my career in this resigned sort of mode.
Upbeat revelation
Today I actually like writing. Gee, it really does appeal to me.
I could have delivered virtually thousands of well-written feature articles for the Morris community through the years. I had the potential. A number of my critics are still around and they'd scoff at that. I became handicapped by a horrible controversy that developed in this town in the late 1980s. The intensity of those feelings is hard to understand now, when you think back to how innocuous, really, the focus of the controversy was - it was public school extracurricular or co-curricular activities.
An appreciable number of "insurgents" in the community, holding meetings at the Holiday Cafe (formerly Trailways, where McDonald's is now), decided to rise up and try to make a statement. It turns out this action on the face of it violated community mores. Often, living in a small town simply means "don't rock the boat."
In the instance I'm citing, many people of high standing in the community, good churchgoers and the like, decided they just couldn't follow the "quiet" credo anymore.
And the other side? They were the self-interested incumbents in a system that had become ossified but still gave many of them a nice paycheck and benefits. They had personal/social friends outside the school. I have written before about the "house parties" that were a catalyst for their efforts. As I look back, I am astonished at the level of venom these people could project, over a subject that really does not seem like that big a deal.
We needed a new underlying philosophy with our extracurricular activities. We needed to drift more toward the "AAU" model rather than the "glorified P.E." model.
We had a system where seniors got too much of the benefit of the doubt for starting positions and playing time. The seniors became less motivated because they weren't "pushed" as much. Teams full of seniors would lose, and the coach would get up at the sports banquet and say "we lacked experience." How do you get experience when seniors are starting all the time?
I remember when one of the magnificent Libbon boys was a sophomore and I asked the coach in an off-the-cuff conversation about whether we might see the young man playing varsity. His response: "We don't do that here."
Sports banquets themselves could be quite the issue of those days. On a couple occasions the speaker took subtle jabs at me. What really took the cake was when an administrator or quasi-administrator used the podium to lash out at his real or imagined critics, back in about 1988. Of course, no one should ever have used a sports banquet to make any kind of political statement.
I guess maybe we should have blamed the superintendent. It's his job to solve small problems before they become big ones. It's his job, difficult I know, to keep the tone among staff reasonably idealistic, not devolving into pitched battles and dripping cynicism. We were not a model in the late 1980s.
Peace pipe in the end?
The insurgents did not win completely. I think many of them felt a number of head coaches had to be replaced. We eventually learned that the problems in the systems were underlying and not necessarily connected to certain head coaches, who I felt all along were competent professional educators.
There was a letter to the editor in the Morris paper praising the outgoing athletic director. Administrator Dennis Rettke in a private conversation with me referred to it as "that damn letter," and said he told the new boys basketball coach (promoted from before) that the letter almost cost him that appointment. Mary Holmberg did not sign the letter.
Shadow followed me, unfortunately
From this point on, I had to watch my back as I attempted doing my newspaper work in the community. I had never attended those meetings at the Holiday Cafe, nor had I ever done anything outside of being congenial and respectful with some of the known insurgents, people like Merlin Beyer. (Rettke in a memo to the board, leaked to me, referred to one of them with the pejorative term "ringleader.")
Many of the defenders of the previous flawed system kept their teaching positions and platform for asserting themselves. The notorious "house parties" continued.
I don't know if the house party today is a prime vehicle for political assertiveness in Morris. I hope the overall climate is better. I suspect it is. I take great pleasure continuing to cover MACA Tiger athletics on my two websites. But of course I'm not compensated and I haven't even had health insurance for the past eight years. I didn't sign up for MNsure because I don't want my Republican friends mad at me - they want to wipe out "Obamacare." What if I sign up and then Republicans take back the U.S. Senate?
My future is totally uncertain. And I probably won't write a book.
"Life of Brian" - apologies to Monty Python - has a cloudy denouement. Then again, those guys getting crucified were able to sing (and whistle) "Look on the Bright Side of Life."
I have the tools at hand for practicing the wonderful craft of journalism. At the end of a day when I feel I have put up a blog post with merit, I feel 100 per cent contented with life.
Addendum: If I work again, maybe I can try one of those simple jobs that are offered to those punch-drunk former football players. We read about this occasionally, the groggy ex-NFLer who gets a job like "soil tester." He probably is asked to go around a field pulling up toothpicks or something. He might require an adult diaper. Maybe I can try one of those jobs. Otherwise I have a little PTSD. Have a nice day.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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