Maps, trails and directions of writing



My dabbling in writing has been a journey without a map so to speak and it serves the practical purpose of filling in occasional dull moments in retirement that fall between fishing, hiking, fixing, traveling, skiing, visiting, hunting, building, boating, shooting… volunteering…and cleaning. Sorry, we’re going to have to slow down here—I’m almost sweating.

It was during one of those dull moments when I found myself reflecting about how my writing “trail” came to this point. I recalled a day at the job in 1978 when a few of us were having morning coffee while another, Phil Christianson, read a book at his desk—chuckling. After a bit, he started laughing out loud which cued someone to ask, “What ya laughing about Phil?”

Collecting himself, Phil told us about the book he was reading by author Patrick McManus which was a collection of zany predicaments McManus and his friends would get themselves into during his younger years. So, Phil shared a few lines from the book and the next thing you know, the whole group of us laughed ‘til we cried. Since then, I’ve read every book McManus has written. He’s someone I relate to.

Later, I began following two syndicated columnists. The first was Sidney J. Harris, a deep thinker who passed away in 1986. He had a way of applying incredible insight to any topic at hand. Here are a few: “There are always too many Democratic congressmen, too many Republican congressmen and never enough U.S. congressmen.”

Or “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates responsibility, the second creates arrogance…”

Or “History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.” His stuff is still relevant today.

The other columnist, Dave Berry, was syndicated from 1983 to 2005. Not such a deep thinker, Dave admits he’s still waiting to grow up and his quotes include: “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.” Or “To an adolescent, there is nothing more embarrassing than a parent.” Or “Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.”

It was a welcome dose of humor on an otherwise somber editorial page.

And while these writers were influenced my life, we need to come back to Phil Christianson. Phil, who’s retired and lives near Orr, amazed me with his array of knowledge. He’s an avid reader and because he is a reader, he could offer interesting stories on interesting people. He could recite facts on all sorts of subjects and his insights were based on solid deduction from those facts. Trust me; if you want to debate with Phil about something do your homework first.

In the months we worked together traveling from one job to another I’d listen intently. It was time well spent compared to unproductive debates of today grounded in television and radio “sound bites” which are essentially merry-go-rounds (lots of motion, but they aren’t going anywhere).

Indeed, Phil is a person who showed me how reading can be entertaining, provides interesting information and can even have you laughing out loud once in a while. It doesn’t matter what trail you are on, those are good directions— especially for a writer.

Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.

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