Three years now and counting | Grayson County

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a 2021 movie produced by Marvel Studios. Katy (played by Awkwafina) is Shang-Chi’s colleague and best friend. In the mythical village of Ta Lo, mystical warriors train as martial arts experts. Katy comments to an old woman from Ta Lo: “I love that you know exactly what you want to do and you spend your whole life getting really good at it.

“I wish I was more like that. It’s like every time I get moderately good at something, I stop and start something new.

“I just know my own limits, and I’m not going to waste my time chasing something that will end up being a disappointment for me. It’s not me.”

That describes me pretty well too. I suspect it describes quite a few of us, really.

I started playing acoustic guitar when I was 12 or 13, about 55 years ago. I should be a virtuoso by now, but I’m not – not even close. There were times when I played my guitar a lot – a few hours a day for months. And I got to where I was moderately good. But I was like Katy in the movie Shang-Chi. Every time I got moderately good, I gave up.

I went to work for a builder after graduating from high school in 1972. In 1975, I partnered with my colleague and friend, Rick Coyte, to form Coyte-Heinz Construction. For most of my adult life, I worked as a carpenter and bricklayer. It was the best way I knew to make a living. I have professional skills in carpentry, cabinet making and construction.

When I was in my forties, I proudly boasted to my father that I was a master carpenter. My old man put me in my place instead. “Anyone who does anything for 20 years or more should become good,” he said bluntly, unimpressed.

My father was right. Indeed, they should—

I learned to fish with a cane pole in the farm ponds around the same time I learned to walk. In the nearly 60 years since then, I have fished the cold, clear lakes of northern Wisconsin, the warm waters of the Florida Keys, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Grand Isle Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico and many other places far too numerous to mention.

I have a fairly broad knowledge of fish, especially the fish found here in Kentucky. I’ve caught almost everything that swims in Kentucky waters, including turtles, frogs, and even salamanders. In the downstream waters below Wolf Creek Dam, I once caught a giant salamander called a hell master.

I guess I’m a moderately good angler, but I would never brag about it. When someone compliments me on my fishing skills, I respond modestly, “I can catch them when they bite. And it’s true, I can catch them when they bite. But I’ve known guys who can catch fish when they are not biting. He’s a real fisherman, almost a wizard, and I’ve known a few of them, but only a few.

I don’t know if they were nice or crazy, but sometimes people have told me that my writing was a “gift”. I never saw it as a gift. In fact, it took me decades to develop my moderately good writing skills. In carpentry, in writing and almost everything, really, I learned slowly.

In 1978, I wrote my first (unpublished) little novel. Some 30 years later, in 2009, my literary novel, Shine, has been published. People told me that I should publish a follow-up book immediately – a sequel to Shine, or something similar. My next book, however, was completely different. And my next book, and my next book—

All eight of my published books are different and unique. Maybe it shows my versatility and reach, but that’s not how a writer builds a successful career. JK Rowling, for example, built her career with Harry Potter. But I could never stick to one thing.

There was a time when I had hoped to change the world, at least a little, with my writing. Today, I am more realistic. Like Katy in the movie Shang-Chi, “I just know my own limits….”

My primary goal as a writer is to entertain the reader. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute. So reading this column probably takes about 5 minutes. Hope these 5 minutes pass pleasantly and quickly.

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut has compared reading a short story to a “Buddhist nap”. Indeed, I hope that by reading one of my columns or stories, you will feel refreshed, serene and reflective – as if you had just taken a nice little nap.

My secondary goal as a writer is to educate and uplift. But I try never to sound like a teacher or a preacher. I don’t think I’m smarter than, and I’m certainly not morally superior to my readers.

Sometimes, yes, I write about politics. This is probably my least favorite subject. Indeed, I often remember the words of Elvis Presley. When asked what he thought of the Vietnam War protesters, Elvis replied, “Honey, I would soon like to keep my personal opinions on this to myself. Because I’m just an artist and I prefer not to say anything.

Hooray for Elvis! Hey, I’m just an artist too.

Sometimes, however, I consider it my duty to write about politics. The political commitment of some people stops at the ballot box. They expect their elected officials to think things through and make the (right) decisions for them. I believe in a more participatory and democratic type of government, in which every citizen has a voice and elected officials answer to their constituents. It’s not what we have, but it’s what I believe in.

I usually spend 3-5 hours writing a column. I’m not a perfectionist, but I try to make every column as good as possible – within reason. As Leonardo da Vinci said so well, “art is never finished, only abandoned”. Indeed, I can (and sometimes do) tweak and revise a column for weeks, sometimes months, before finally abandoning it – considering it done.

And if I’ve done a reasonably good job, my 3-5 hours of diligent work will entertain, and possibly educate and edify, the reader for 5-6 minutes. The best thing a writer can hope for is simply to be read. The worst thing, duhshould not be read.

When my esteemed editor, Matt Lasley, invited me to write a regular column for this article, I committed (mostly to myself) to write these columns for 5 years. (I was 65 then; I would write until I was 70.) Without this voluntary commitment, I knew that I would probably not stick to it for long.

It was three years ago. Three down, two left—

I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m unhappy or ungrateful. I am truly happy and grateful for this opportunity to contribute to my community and to this journal. Thank you, Mr. Lasley!

Mark Heinz lives at Lac Nolin. Visit his website at

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