Sunday, February 21, 2010

Newspapers, Our Visiting Musician, and Softball

A high point in the week for me was hearing Chandra Green again at Southern Illinois
Writers Guild on Thursday night. Chandra has a most remarkable life story—one that could only happen to an incredibly gifted woman. Dropping out of school at 15 to marry and escape an alcoholic father, she went to work at the West Frankfort American and said she literally fell in love with journalism the minute she walked in and smelled the ink. She continued working at area newspapers through repeated bad marriages but acquired a GED and an incredible understanding of writing, page design, editing, and the business side of journalism. She also has acquired a long-standing stable marriage with the love of her life.

I met Chandra through her column in the Southern Illinoisan, and I was delighted with her writing and her stories of Ma, her elderly grandmother, and her mom—the Queen of Stuff. Rising in the ranks during her 16 years at the Southern Illinoisan, she became an editor, and she credited all those early co-workers who helped her learn the ropes and love her job. But changes and pressures there caused this largest area newspaper to lose one of their best talents--just as the paper also lost Jim Muir, our Guild speaker last month. Chandra did not say she was one of their best talents—but as a reader I knew she was. And so was Jim.

Employed at other work where she missed that smell of ink, Chandra came up with an idea as she sat at her kitchen table with a daughter. The daughter was taking a college class, which required her to make a business plan, so she was able to pick her mother’s brain for starting a niche newspaper. By the time the business plan for her class was completed, the daughter and her mother had determined to use it to start Heartland Women. They succeeded at what everyone believed was an impossible task. Five years later the award-winning paper is still going strong, and Chandra offers area writers an opportunity to sell their work. The free twice-monthly newspaper, which is distributed widely in several counties is filled with columns, feature stories, and news of area women.

In the midst of the declining use of newspapers by a public who now often depend on the Internet for news, Chandra has shown it is possible for a newspaper with a clear purpose to establish itself. (I won’t say a clear audience because I think many men read Heartland Women.) Could anyone do it? No, only someone who has the enormous talent and knowledge and the incredible work ethic that Chandra has.

I worry that she works too hard, but I love to pick up her paper. She pointed out that while she was in journalism because she loves to write, all the other duties consume her time and she probably spends little more than two percent writing. Someone has to sell the advertising that keeps the paper going, and often she becomes the one who has to do it. Her two novels sit half finished and unattended.

After the bitter cold weather at the first of the week and then the dire predictions of more bad weather this weekend, it was hard to believe how beautiful yesterday and today were. Coats weren’t really necessary although most of us were still wearing them out of habit. (I saw some wearing shorts.)

Folks were grateful for the break from cold and for the delay of the predicted heavy rain that replaced the icy weather predictions. A friend involved with the Red Rose Gala to raise money for the Marion Civic Center was concerned what bad weather might mean to that effort. Our neighbor of many years died Wednesday after three or four exhaustive weeks for his family while he was in hospitals and rehab, and I was very thankful the weather stayed pretty today for his funeral and the burial in a neighborhood cemetery. Our granddaughter Leslie was arriving at Woodsong at bedtime last night from visiting friends and family up at the state speech contest in Peoria, so I was very relieved she wasn’t driving on scary roads. Tonight the delayed rain began with gentle sprinkling, but she was safely back in Tennessee by then.

Leslie was ready for bed when she arrived at the farm late last night, because she’d had a slumber-party type visit Friday night with a high school friend now at University of Illinois, and the two met up with the Freeport speech kids at Peoria. I offered sandwich fixings and a very brief visit and encouraged her to go catch up on her sleep in the brown room. That’s the windowless room everyone wants because it is completely underground and great sleeping. (When our son-in-law dropped in Friday night, I invited him to sleep in another guest room because I told him I was saving the brown room for Leslie. However, he was already planning to sleep in their camper at the other farm, which is parked there most of the time. He had farm business to take care of with various people on Saturday before he returned home to his family in central Illinois.)

This morning we were pleased to hear Leslie sing at worship. She had forgotten her guitar, but after mulling it over last night, she realized she did have a song she could sing with piano. We hurried home from church for a quick spaghetti and salad dinner so she could get on the road in time to make a 5 p.m. rehearsal back at Nashville. She had a CD of Miles Davis on his trumpet that she must memorize and be prepared to sing in a jazz class on Tuesday. So she was planning to listen as she drove.

By this time, Gerald was finding the Texas A&M and Georgia softball tourneys on his computer, and those games occupied most of our afternoon. Both teams were hosting tournaments this weekend, and we had been following them as best we could, and both teams won all five tourney games.

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