Yes, I’ll be on tv! And you can see it…. but only if you live in Wisconsin. Or near Wisconsin, or if somehow you know how to hack into the Wisconsin Channel. They have a series called “University Place,” and I’ll be appearing on Thursday, 11/17 at 4:19 p.m. It’s my :45 min talk on “The History of Miniature Golf” which I gave at the Wisconsin Historical Museum back in June 2015. I am wearing a vintage-style dress that I sewed myself and which I will probably regret wearing once I see the orange bows on television.
(Ye gods, isn’t there some area of the brain that is supposed to regulate these things, like sense of balance, like “don’t say stupid things in public,” and “best not to wear orange bows on your dress if you’re appearing on television”?)
But actually, it was awesome fabric which I purchased online from Mood Fabrics, and they aren’t paying me to tell you that, just as I’m not getting paid to tell you the History of Miniature Golf on your tv, but the folks at the museum were all nice about it when they asked, because, you know, they are Wisconsin people, and “nice” tends to come in the water, and they did pay me a bit to give the talk and gave me a nice night in a nice hotel which w as… you know… nice…
I have been getting letters from readers… more this past summer, then fewer in the fall. Around Christmas time I started to receive another wave of them — perhaps some copies of the book were given as Christmas gifts, or at least that’s what I was told when some generous folks bought multiple copies at booksignings along the way. So a new audience of readers might have been looking at “My Family and Other Hazards” recently.
In any case, several weeks ago, when the doldrums of winter were beginning to set in, and while I was floundering (I admit) to get some momentum on the next book(s), wondering if I should just write to please myself, or try to get a wider audience by writing Humorous Book A or Midwestern Book B, and then wondering if I should just hole up and write more weird poetry …. this letter arrived in my inbox. I am posting it here, (with permission from the author, deleting his last name, just out of respect and privacy). Because sometimes the words of a stranger can make you stop in your tracks. And sometimes, that is just what you need.
Subject: Many thanks
From: Eric _____
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014
I just finished reading your book last evening. I can not thank you enough for a memoir like this. It was exactly what I needed this Christmas.
Like you, I grew up in Decorah. I had both of your parents as teachers. Reading the pages, I could see both of them come to life in front of me,. At one point towards the end of your book, you describe your dad rubbing his hands together. I can still see him doing that in the chemistry classroom.
I graduated in 1988, the same year your dad retired. He was at our senior banquet. He had some pretty great laughs that night, and some great things to say to 150+ students going out into the world.
About 16 months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I figured it was a little thing. A couple of trips to chemotherapy, I would be perfectly fine and get on with life. Well, it turned out to not be so little. It was a fast spreading germ cell cancer. I had 4 rounds of in patient chemotherapy. My mom came out from Decorah to take care of me after each of these hospitalizations. 79 and she still was there to take care of her kid. After that, there was a surgery to remove what the chemo had treated to see if it was dead or living. Turned out to be all dead. However, it was an 11 hour surgery that took me a long time to recover from. I was told I was cancer free, only to have the cancer return 2 weeks later. I had two more rounds of in patient chemotherapy before being referred to The Nebraska Medical Center for a possible stem cell transplant. I was a good candidate. They harvested my own stem cells and did 3 stem cell transplants, which were accompanied by 3 more rounds of tough chemotherapy. Everything seemed to work, until my 100 day check up when they found what looked like live cancer again in my liver. I needed to have another surgery. I called my mom and broke the news to her. She just asked when I wanted her to come back out. I told her I would get things scheduled and we would plan it. Four days later, my mom died. Once I got through the funeral, I scheduled the surgery. I am not sure how it happened, but the spot that looked to be live cancer turned out to be scar tissue.
So, after healing from all of that, I am feeling good. In the middle of all of this, I also lost my job since I had used up all my sick, vacation and FMLA time,
But I digress. I tell you all of this because, your book made me laugh and smile and cry in the best ways possible. I guess knowing your parents, knowing Decorah, and just having you hit the feelings of nostalgia, longing and love of your family, no matter how much you may have just wanted them to go away when you were growing up, hit the spot for me I can not imagine going through life without my siblings and all we do for each other. I know my parents brought us up as a unit, as supportive people. With both of them gone for the first holiday, we are still making sure we see each other and laugh and eat and spend our time together. It will be strange for me. Last year I was home recovering from my first surgery at Christmas. It was the first time I had not spent December 25 in Decorah. It is a pretty magical place.
Congratulations on an absolutely wonderful book! And thank you for sharing with the world. You certainly made one former Decorah person sitting in Omaha a very happy man.
So (it’s June again)… I hesitated to share this letter, because this one really hit me. Grateful? You bet. But that isn’t the half of it. Isn’t life weird? There are things in life that you do because you know you have to do them– in my case, write a book. We don’t always know what drives us, do we? And yet, we are driven. It’s weird. Life is weird. But isn’t it an amazing thing to learn that your creation actually worked. At least for one person. Someone who was on the front lines battling the Big Important Battles. To know that the things you were trying so hard to express actually may have helped someone, or in any case, found a kindred soul.
I am sharing this in the hopes it may inspire you, in this new year, to Do the Thing That You Know You Have To Do. This is how we are guided — that’s my opinion — that nagging feeling we get. So, if there is something, some project, that you have been thinking you need to do, I am saying: Do it. Share it. Put it out there. Take that risk. See what happens. Please, please do. This is your year, 2015.
(I had to ask Eric if he was in remission. He says he doesn’t know yet. I will need his permission to say more, because that seems fair.)
Thank you, Eric. For writing this letter to me. And for giving me permission to share it.
I’m writing to you from my mother’s basement in Waupaca, Wisconsin. All is well. I’m just a bit… well… gosh… I just got word today that Hazards got a lovely review from the Christian Science Monitor. I’m just so… gosh. Honestly. They compare it to Dorothy Parker, and you know, that’s the kind of thing that can knock a girl’s socks off (if I were wearing socks, you know, because most of the time during the summer I go barefoot).
When you release a book–especially when it’s your first book and you are as knowledgeable about the world as a kindergartner on the first day of school–there are a lot of ups and downs. What’s going to happen? Anything? Will I have to share my blue crayon? Will there be nap time?
I still can’t tell you how kindergarten is, except that I will say that when I have been going out to do readings, the other kids are very nice. Very nice. (But I still have no idea what I’m doing on twitter, and you can add your own playground reference here.)
Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City tells me that “My Family and Other Hazards” was the #3 bestseller for July. (After Paul Ingram and his own stellar book of clerihews.) (Yup. I know!)
Here’s what’s going on this week:
Tonight, 8/5, I am teaching other people how to write a memoir: Free creative writing workshop to the folks in Wausau, Wisconsin, at the historical society there. Open to the public. Join us! 6:30pm
Wed. 8/6 I’m giving a talk on the History of Mini Golf at the Portage County Historical Society, Synagogue Museum, 1475 Water St. Stevens Point, WI, 7pm. (free)
Thurs. 8/7 I’m giving the same talk (or a similar one, because, you know, they do tend to vary a bit) at the Waupaca County Historical Society in Waupaca, 7pm.
Friday 8/8: Family reunion. Hurrah! (you can read about my family reunions in chapter 10, if you’re that kind of person who wants to know…)
It’s been an exciting time, but to be honest, I just did two interviews (one with the Green Bay Press Gazette and another with Sirius XM radio) and now I’m going to lay on my little mat and take a nap. And then sip from my carton of milk. And maybe there will be graham crackers. (Do they still do that? Hand out graham crackers with your milk in the afternoon?)
Well, folks. Last week sure was ranked up there on the List of Interesting Weeks. I must say.
I don’t have too much time to write a long entry about it, because tomorrow we head up north to St. Paul to visit Common Good Books (which is rumored to be owned by Garrison Keillor, of Garrison Keillor fame). So, my suitcase, which is barely unpacked from last week, needs to be packed up again. But I do want to say hello. Hello! And here are some pictures….
Last week looked like this:
front counter at Boswell Books
–WTMJ where I was a guest on “The Morning Blend,” which is a live tv morning show (and you have to know that people rarely use the words “live” and “morning” when they refer to me in any circumstance… )
One of the guests was Toad the Wet Sprocket. Another of the guests in the green room was a guy in a suit of armor. He is a jouster. It was a jolly time in the green room…
All went well last week… in fact, the worst thing that happened was that we didn’t have time to skip and hop and play around the state of Wisconsin, which is too bad…. it’s all business when you’re in the book business…. (unless you are challenged to fierce game of mini golf, played between the bookshelves… which I was…!
… at Books & Co in Oconomowoc (where the Thiele family created a mini golf course inspired by Tom Thumb–I kid you not!
Also, if you have read My Family and Other Hazards already, you have heard of “Tom the cook.”
He was at the Oconomowoc event! Here is pic of us!
Hello. I happen to be a long-time fan of the town Oconomowoc, even though this is kinda my first time here. Whatta name! I mean…! Years ago, when I lived in California, I considered placing a want-ad in a Wisconsin newspaper “seeking high school letter jacket — Oconomowoc…” Yes, I do love Wisconsin. Also, apparently, I love vowels. I thought it would be a fun and confounding garment to wear around Hollywood, with the name of this fine town spread across my shoulder blades…. thus weeding out the people who couldn’t pronounce it, but really wanted to say hello. (Oh, we midwesterners amused ourselves in strange and nefarious ways in Hollywood…)
I’m doing a reading tonight at Books & Company, owned by the uber-charming Lisa Baudoin. Last night I had an event at Boswell Books in Milwaukee, owned by the fast and furious Daniel Goldin. I am kind of in awe of him, I’ll be honest. And he has done some amazing things for spreading the word about my wee book, I’ll ya, and then I’ll tell ya again…
Milwaukee was strange, if you are measuring strangeness by the number of left-hand turns that the GPS would like you to take between Point A and Point B. Perhaps there is a special navigation option to request spinning counter-clockwise… or we have invented one…
This morning I was on television, but that’s not the important part. But…. Toad the Wet Freakin’ Sprocket! They were in studio! This morning! My jaw was literally dragging the floor, which was relatively well-kept for a production studio, but still…. Wow!!! Makes getting a book written so freakin’ worthwhile! I mean… ! After doing my segment with the perky hosts, I sat there on the couch and watched the band play, like, 30 feet away…. or was it only 20…?!
This morning I had an interview with Mitch Teich of “Lake Effect” which will air on Wisconsin Public Radio in a couple of weeks, and he was like the best friend I just met. Reminded me so much of the comics I hung out with in LA. So fun to talk to… New reviews this week from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Spencer Daily Reporter, the St Paul Pioneer Press, and a Q&A with the Wisconsin State Journal.
I haven’t seen them, but, that’s kind of a cool list.
Also, because I do enjoy scaring myself to death on a regular basis, I joined Twitter. I have no idea what I’m doing. Honestly. I hit reply to respond to a bookstore that had my name spelled wrong, and apparently it isn’t a private reply, but public. So funny like that. It’s like thinking you’re whispering to your neighbor—“I think you have poison ivy on your front lawn”– only to see your words printed in the newspaper. Um… okay… ha.
Whew, baby. It’s been a great week, especially if you are measuring by quantity of laundry you are toting in your suitcase, or how satisfyingly exhausted you feel…. or even by the number of nice things people have said to you.
Yup, this week was the first leg of the Mini Golf-arama Book Tour, and all is well.
We sold out at Prairie Lights on Tuesday. Imagine that? I mean, wow… Wow! (If you type the word “wow” at a time when your fingers are one key too low at your keyboard, it comes out “sos.”) When i began the event I felt a bit overwhelmed. There was such a great turn out that night… I was a bit gushy behind the podium… (I admit it). Jan Weissmiller, the owner, has always looked a bit like an angel to me, you know, the fair hair and big eyes… she sat in the audience and laughed and laughed… then gave me a big hug afterwards…. This is the bookstore I used to visit when I was just a graduate student getting my mfa at the University of Iowa…. I saw all kinds of famous writers give readings at this place. Then this week…. wow. I can’t believe it was my turn. Honestly. No matter what else happens in my life, I can always say that once upon a time, I sold out at the reading event at Prairie Lights. Check out the history of the place.
This week I also gave a lecture at the ISWF, did events at two other bookstores in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, I met Charity Nebbe of IPR in person… I feel like a kid home from summer camp: I had such a packed week of activities that I don’t even know where to begin…
Can I tell you more later, gator? Me eyes are a bit droopy… I feel like calling it a night… or just relaxing a bit… ah… summer… the windows open, the birds singing, the woodthrush starting his evening song…. i love the woodthrush… and it’s nice to be back in the woods again… (however briefly! Three nights home, then we leave for Leg 2!)
Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more.
– George Saunders
In other news, it’s called an Arctic Clipper, which is another way of saying It’s-strangely-cold-outside-and-we’ve decided-to-blame-Canada…
We gots ourselves some rain and behind it (as they say) some cold air. Sure, it’s still steamy warm inside the house still, but outside… wow. And going to stay that way. On Tuesday when I’m in Iowa City reading at Prairie Lights Books, the high temp is only going to be 38 degrees. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but the temp in Iowa City usually near 95 million Fahrenheit during the summer, so a forecast for a high of 71 seems freakish.
Speaking of freakish, it’s been an amazing week, I must say. The book came out on Tuesday, and now it’s Sat., and I am still trying to get over the fact that people are actually reading it. The response has been so very unexpected. People have been saying very nice things to me. And this makes it very difficult. It would be so much easier if I could complain, you know, the way we Iowans comment when the weather is nice, “That’s just how it is. It’ll change.” Ok, I’m just a Midwesterner. Also, I just finished writing it just over six months ago, so mostly I have been looking forward just being done. I had forgotten about this part, that people would buy it right away. Let alone, you know, tell me nice things when I’m buying swiss chard at the market. I tried to avoid blurting out, “Well, it’s not War in Peace,” (which, actually, I’ve never read, but I hear it’s very popular… one of these winters though, I’ll give it a go…)
In any case…
I got a lovely invite to be the guest Wed. morning on “Talk of Iowa,” on Iowa Public Radio. I’m thrilled! And wowed! And they want me there for the whole hour. Live. “What are you going to say?” my mom asked. “I don’t know!” I’m going to try not to blurt, “You have a face! With a nose and everything!” Because it’s going to be weird to meet the people I have listened to for years on the radio (and, of course, I really am a bit blurty).
This week’s mini- tour lineup:
Tuesday, Prairie Lights, Iowa City 7pm
Wed., Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, 6:30pm
Thurs. New Bo Books, Cedar Rapids, 7pm
I took the day off today to sew–that’s what I like to do on my time off. I won’t get the dress finished in time to wear it this week, and perhaps not the next. I’m very slow when I sew. But anyway, it won’t be sundress weather anyway in Iowa City… I may need a parka instead…
Other new links:
Daniel Goldin of Boswell Books, Milwaukee, posted a blog about this mini golf book o’ mine. (I’ll be reading at Boswell’s on July 22nd.)
You can listen to a recorded interview from Publishers’ Weekly/Sirius FM radio recorded this past Wed. morning when I was seriously buzzing on caffeine. (Listen here, and see if you can identify the type and size of caffeinated beverage I had consumed. Fun!)
News from the woods: On the way home from the big event Tuesday, we saw a fox in the road which was cool. Also that night, the trunk of a 100-year old ash tree fell down across the road, leaving only a few feet to get around it. Today there are enough mosquitos today that the air is like a meaty soup. I mean, it’s a normal week in the woods…