One brick at a time
Years ago, a former coworker expressed frustration at what he viewed as wasting away covering small stories.
He longed to write stories that would be soaring cathedrals rather than mud huts. He wanted to address major issues rather than minor squabbles over things like fence lines and road projects. He wanted to be bringing down corruption rather than reporting on petty school board bickering over the number of children in classrooms. He wanted to make changes to the world around him instead of writing about the winner of the local spelling bee.
Last Saturday, I quietly marked 25 years of working at The Star News.
When I came here in 1996, The Star News was to be my second newspaper gig. I had spent the previous year working at The Clark County Press in Neillsville where I had butted heads a few too many times with the editor who had grown up in town and the status quo in the community. I came to The Star News filling the sports editor position left vacant with the passing of Ray Metz.
I was, by my own admission, a cocky but dumb kid who thought I had all the answers. I had no illusions about being at The Star News more than a few years. I figured I would get some more experience and then move on to someplace bigger, and in the mind of a 23-year-old, better than a small town in the back beyond of nowhere.
A strange thing happened on the way to the dream of working on a national stage, I fell in love with this place and the people who live here. I am not sure precisely when or how it happened.
I can think of a half a hundred different memories that cemented in my mind that Taylor County was special to me, and even now, many years later, I find myself falling in love with this place and people all over again.
I remember clearly the white-knuckled drives home from Gilman in snowstorms when even the plows had been pulled in from the roads. I remember the pre-Christmas meeting of the Rib Lake village board where a board member, who passed away many years ago, reached into the bag at his feet and pulled out bottles to share in holiday cheer after the meeting had ended.
I have sat around kitchen tables and talked to people about their passions, triumphs and the ongoing struggle of dairy markets and the challenges of animal agriculture. I have interviewed graduates ready to “leave and never come back.” I have gained some of my best friends after having interviewed them for their jobs or recognitions they have received. Likewise, I have mourned when those I came to know and respect passed from this world. Age does not temper grief, it just adds to the army of souls that we carry with us in our hearts.
One time while leading a tour for some students, I was asked about how much I write each week. While it varies from week to week, I figured it at being somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 words each week. By that count, in the 1,300 weeks since I have started at The Star News I have written between 7.8 and 10.4 million words.
By the standard of my former coworker, the vast majority of those words were wasted telling small stories, inconsequential to anyone beyond their immediate families. Perhaps they were cut out and saved in a scrapbook or pinned to a bulletin board or hung from a refrigerator magnet, but the majority of them were socalled small stories.
It takes an awful lot of bricks to build a cathedral and often lifetimes of work. Where my former coworker missed the point those many years ago, is in not recognizing that with every word we write and every story we share, we are building that cathedral block by block.
Like most newspapers we keep archives in the form of large bound volumes each holding a half-year’s worth of newspapers. We keep ours in the basement in sturdy wooden bookcases. When I have to go back into those archives to search for an item, I am humbled by seeing literally my life’s work stacked up neatly. More humbling is that it is just one small part of the shelves with many others filled by those who came before me and many other empty ones that will be filled by those who will follow me, all of us doing our part and building our cathedrals one brick, one story at a time.
As I think back to my younger, slimmer self who had far more hair and no gray in his beard, I think how lucky he was to find a home in this place and the people who live here.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.