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The Writer’s Almanac for December 18, 2018
It was on this day in 1892 that the Nutcracker ballet premiered at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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A Prairie Home Companion: December 22, 2007
Broadcasted from the Zoellner Center at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with Robin & Linda Williams and two excellent local choirs. Get into the holiday spirit with this classic episode!
Robin & Linda Williams

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The News from Lake Wobegon – Dec 2, 2018
Garrison Keillor updates us on the latest news from Lake Wobegon during this performance in New York City on December 2nd, 2018.

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Guy Noir – 5/12/2012
A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the empty streets, on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building, one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions...

Garrison's weekly columns

For full list, click here

Why I left home and crossed over the river

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

But the beauty of the move is psychological, how it puts dead history behind you and opens up vistas shining and new. This is the American solution to just about any problem: get out of town. I worked in St. Paul for forty years and got sandbagged a year ago and felt bad about it and now I’m in Minneapolis and am over it. So there.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are adjoining cities along the upper Mississippi that, from an airplane, look like one city but they are not. What is the difference between them? The difference is that in Minneapolis people would be astonished that anyone would need to ask that question. Minneapolis is a center of culture and the arts, home of the Guthrie Theater, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Institute of Art, a city sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Midwest. St. Paul is the home of Mickey’s Diner, Candyland, the farm campus of the University, and a minor league ball club whose mascot is a pig.

St. Paul is a big small town and knows its place (next to Minneapolis). Minneapolis cares terribly what outsiders think of it, and if the New York Times writes about Minneapolis as a cultural mecca, people hug each other and jump up and down and the schools are closed for the day. St. Paulites go to Minneapolis; Minneapolitans don't go to St. Paul. They go to New York, or London, or to Paris, the Minneapolis of Europe. They fear that if they visited St. Paul, someone might think they’re from there. For the same reason New Yorkers avoid Newark and Bostonians Providence: what if you were struck by a car and your wallet was lost and you lay unidentified in a morgue and wound up becoming a permanent resident?

Minneapolis is where young people go who want to make it as writers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, comedians — tough rows to hoe and so it’s good to have co-conspirators. I lived in Minneapolis when I was young and arrogant and writing poetry that was incomprehensible and contained deep pools of agony. It was easy to be incomprehensible but I didn’t possess enough agony, having grown up in a nice Christian family. I moved to St. Paul. I took up prose fiction. I came to enjoy being paid for what I wrote. I wrote books and I sat in bookstores signing copies of my books to friends and relatives of the buyers. It was a good life. I never was noticed by The New York Review of Each Other’s Books or named Poet Laundromat of the United States or won a Pullet Surprise, and as a St. Paul writer, I didn’t expect to.

And then came the big move to Minneapolis, an apartment a block from where I got my first job out of high school, as a dishwasher in a hotel, where, at 17, I sat in a park nearby on my lunch hour, writing poems and practicing smoking cigarettes. I went to the old sandstone castle of the Minneapolis Public Library and devoured books. It’s lovely to be back.

And now I am old enough to see how lucky I am. Big honors are a heavy burden and have stunted the careers of many. It’s like being the Paris of the Midwest: people expect you to be très chic and not just a chicken on a tray. I was worried this year that I’d hear from Stockholm that I’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature and it was a relief when they decided not to award it. Every morning, I go to work feeling young and enterprising, hoping to make my mark. Minneapolis is full of people like me. I wish us all well.

Time passes except when it suddenly leaps backward

Snow on the ground in Minnesota and a frosty grayness in the air and a delicious chill that makes a person feel alive and vibrant. Cold is a stimulant, but of course some people don’t tolerate it well and they decamp for the Sun Belt and — don’t tell anyone I said this — everything works better when those old people leave town. Traffic flows, the line at checkout moves faster without querulous oldsters demanding a discount on bruised bananas, you don’t have fifteen cars waiting at the drive-up ATM while some old coot tries to remember his PIN number. I can say this because I’m 76. If you said it, you’d be accused of ageism, which it is, but past the age of 70, one is entitled.

It’s the Age of Sensitivity. A house down the street has hung up Christmas lights, but as I look closer, I see that alongside the star of Bethlehem is a Star of David and also a star inside a crescent moon with an inscription in Arabic. These people are liberals, like me, but their inclusivity strikes me as show-offy — and why did they leave out Buddhism and Hinduism? And how will agnostics feel when they see this?

Last month, I went to the grocery store and I asked a clerk where I’d find the dairy case and she told me and I said, “Thank you, kid” and she said, “I don’t accept people infantilizing me.” She was in her fifties. I was stunned. I told the manager I wanted to apologize to the woman and he said, “Don’t worry about it. She is nougat intolerant and it makes her hypersensitive, though I’m not supposed to use that word, and if you report me, I’ll deny everything.”

In the Minnesota I knew, there was very little sensitivity. We played hockey on backyard rinks with rolled-up magazines for shin pads. It was bitterly cold. Kids whacked me with their sticks, I was pelted with insults — dodo, dummy, dimwit, moron — until, a few years ago, I was diagnosed as being “at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum” and I got a card to carry in my wallet: “I am an autist, high-functioning but with limits. Please be patient.”

The big cultural shift came with the introduction of no-smoking areas in the Sixties, after the Surgeon General’s report. Back then, everyone smoked except sissies and pantywaists, and then suddenly it was uncool. I loved smoke and still do, though now I limit myself to pre-inhaled smoke. But the ban on smoking was followed by rules about joking and poking and then a city ordinance was passed forbidding the custom of “Ladies First” as patronizing: women demanded the right to open doors for themselves. Church attendance plunged due to the threatening language of the Bible.

In the old days, threats were everywhere. Parents yelled at their kids, kids yelled at each other. That’s why I’m not a hugger; when someone takes a step toward me, I step back. In the old days, someone stepped toward you, they’d say, “Look down there” and you looked down and they stuck a foot behind you and shoved you and yelled, “Doughnuts!” I grew up with that.

(Meanwhile, Individual-1 is still in power, a man straight off the grade school playground of 1954, swiping candy from the weak, pushing, shoving, depantsing people. He enjoys a latitude of rudeness denied to the rest of us and half the population approves of this.)

The other morning at the coffee shop, I said, “Good morning, dear” to the barista. I knew I shouldn’t say it but she had given me such a sweet smile, I thought maybe she is the granddaughter of an old classmate, maybe she loves my writing. She stiffened when I deared her. She said, “You are using your power position as a customer to imply an intimate relationship that doesn’t exist and thereby enjoy a fantasy that is demeaning to me.” I said, “Your smile implied a personal relationship and made me think I might know you and simply had forgotten your name.” She said, “You’re out of your mind.” And I showed her my Autist card. She said, “I am so sorry. I had no idea you were mentally handicapped.” And then she recognized her mistake, using the forbidden h-word. I told the manager and she was fired. I got a gift certificate for two dozen lattes. Cool.

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 18, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 18, 2018

It was on this day in 1892 that the Nutcracker ballet premiered at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: December 22, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion: December 22, 2007

Broadcasted from the Zoellner Center at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with Robin & Linda Williams and two excellent local choirs. Get into the holiday spirit with this classic episode!

Read More

The News from Lake Wobegon – Dec 2, 2018

Garrison Keillor updates us on the latest news from Lake Wobegon during this performance in New York City on December 2nd, 2018.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for December 17, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 17, 2018

The first episode of “The Simpsons” aired on Fox on this date in 1989 after a successful spat of short segments that had appeared on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 16, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 16, 2018

Today is the birthday of novelist Jane Austen (1775), who said, “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 15, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 15, 2018

It’s the birthday of writer Edna O’Brien (1930), one of a select number of Irish artists who have been bestowed the honor of Saoi.

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 14, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 14, 2018

It’s the birthday of Shirley Jackson (1916), author of morbid short story “The Lottery” and novel-turned-Netflix-hit “The Haunting of Hill House.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 13, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 13, 2018

It was on this day in 1577 that Sir Francis Drake, described by victims as a very nice pirate, set out to sail around the world.

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 12, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 12, 2018

Today is the birthday of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863) who said, “My sufferings…are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for December 11, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for December 11, 2018

It’s the birthday of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz (1911), who delivered his acceptance speech in Arabic when he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988.

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Writing

Why I left home and crossed over the river

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

Read More

Time passes except when it suddenly leaps backward

Snow on the ground in Minnesota and a frosty grayness in the air and a delicious chill that makes a person feel alive and vibrant. Cold is a stimulant, but of course some people don’t tolerate it well and they decamp for the Sun Belt and — don’t tell anyone I said this — everything works better when those old people leave town. Traffic flows, the line at checkout moves faster without querulous oldsters demanding a discount on bruised bananas, you don’t have fifteen cars waiting at the drive-up ATM while some old coot tries to remember his PIN number. I can say this because I’m 76. If you said it, you’d be accused of ageism, which it is, but past the age of 70, one is entitled.

Read More

Having reached the end, he continues

The real news these days is about science, and last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy is dropping in the U.S., and the American male’s average life expectancy is 76.1 years, a figure I reached in October. My expiration date has passed. This comes as a shock, to think that I’m expected to die now, in a state of ignorance, still trying to figure out the basics (What am I here for? Why do rainy days make me happy? Where are my glasses?).

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One more week, its little successes, etc.

It’s a father’s duty to take at least one long trip with each of his children, the two of you, nobody else along, and now that my daughter and I have traveled by rail, the old 20th Century Limited route from Chicago to New York, the trip Cary Grant took with Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest, we are ready to take another. Nineteen hours from Chicago’s magnificent Union Station to Manhattan’s wretched Penn Station, including a fast run along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and the bond between young woman and her old man is sealed solid.

Highly recommended, especially for us newspaper readers constantly fussed-up over national crises — from a train, you see the solidity of the country, its infrastructure, factories, warehouses, everything working remarkably well.

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A great task lies before us, but first we sleep

Small sorrows speak; great sorrows are silent. My current small sorrow is a daily flood of junk e-mail — cheap insurance, health nostrums, hernia repair, free loans, travel discounts, an app to find out if your spouse is unfaithful — a stream of crap generated in Orlando. In tiny print at the bottom is “If you wish to unsubscribe, click here,” and I click there and the stuff keeps coming, an infestation of electronic cockroaches.

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What happened Sunday, in case you missed it

Church was practically full last Sunday, with a few slight gaps for skinny fashion models but otherwise S.R.O., and everyone was in an amiable mood what with several babies present for baptism, and then the organ rang out the opening hymn, the one with “teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above” in it, an exciting line for us Episcopalians who rarely get into flaming stuff, and I sang out from the fifth pew near some babies and their handlers, some of whom weren’t familiar with this famous hymn of Christendom, though later, around the baptismal font, they would pledge to renounce the evil powers of this world and bring up the child in the Christian faith, but their ignorance of “Come thou fount of every blessing” suggested that they might bring up the child to play video games on Sunday morning, but what the hey, God accepts them as they be and though with some reluctance so must we, and I’m sorry this sentence got so long.

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The old man repents of his materialism

Standard Time returned in a cold rain on Sunday but no matter. I’m an old man and every day is beautiful. My past is gone, my future is shrinking, and so when I open my eyes in the morning and don’t see angels bending over me, I’m grateful for another day on Earth. There will be no cold rain in Heaven and I will miss that and the chance to complain about it. I went in the bathroom when I awoke and closed the door so that if I fell down with a massive heart attack, I wouldn’t wake my wife, and I put my pants on, left leg first, then the right, not leaning against the wall, for the sheer excitement of it. Some mornings it’s like mounting a bucking horse. And then downstairs to the coffeepot and back to work on my memoir.

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The old man is learning to dance

I went to a fundraiser for my daughter’s school Saturday and wandered out in search of relief and found myself trapped on the dance floor among demented teens writhing and jerking to the throb of a DJ’s explosive sound unit and there was my girl, in a circle of girls holding hands, bouncing around in a tribal ceremony unknown to me, an old man from the Era of Dance Partners. One more reminder, as if I needed it, that soon I must take the Long Walk out onto the ice pack and not return.

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One more beautiful wasted day

Last Wednesday I was walking briskly toward Penn Station in New York and I tripped and took a nosedive, made a three-point landing, rolled onto my side, and within three seconds, three passersby stopped and asked, “Are you okay?” I said, “Just embarrassed,” and when I started to get up and fell again, a fourth joined them. An old lady my age, a young black guy, a construction worker in an orange helmet, and a teenage girl. I limped east on 34th Street, and turned, and the guy in the helmet was watching me. I waved. He waved back.

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It is a good and pleasant thing not to rant

It’s the details of a story that give it life, not the high moral outlook of the thing, but many people find details confusing: it’s righteousness they crave, righteousness as a rationale for anger, and so you have the current surge in harangues and fulminations and the rarity of true storytelling. It’s just human nature. But it’s sad to see.

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