The Writer’s Almanac for January 4, 2019


A Child’s Evening Prayer
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
God grant me grace my prayers to say:
O God! preserve my mother dear
In strength and health for many a year;
And, O! preserve my father too,
And may I pay him reverence due;
And may I my best thoughts employ
To be my parents’ hope and joy;
And, O! preserve my brothers both
From evil doings and from sloth,
And may we always love each other,
Our friends our father, and our mother:
And still, O Lord, to me impart
An innocent and grateful heart,
That after my last sleep I may
Awake to thy eternal day!
Amen.

“A Child’s Evening Prayer” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Public domain. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of Louis Braille, born in Coupvray, France (1809). When he was three years old, he was blinded in an accident. He invented a system of six raised dots that could be read by fingers, so that blind people could read easily. His idea didn’t catch on during his lifetime, but it eventually became a worldwide phenomenon.


It was on this day in 1952 that a 23-year-old medical student from Buenos Aires, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, hopped on a motorcycle with his biochemist friend and began his journey through Latin America. For Che, it was a journey that would last nine months and in which he’d traverse 8,000 miles by motorcycle, hitchhiking, steamship, horseback, river raft, and cargo plane. He’d return home a changed man, dedicated to the causes of alleviating poverty, unifying Latin America, and to armed revolution. This journey became the basis for his New York Times best-selling book The Motorcycle Diaries.

Guevara came from a well-off Argentinean family. He didn’t get very good grades in medical school, and he didn’t seem that interested in politics. He really just loved to ride his bicycle and to travel. He’d biked around Argentina all by himself a few years before. So when his older friend, 29-year-old biochemist Alberto Granado, mentioned the idea of taking a motorcycle from the south end of Latin America to the north, young Guevara jumped at the chance. He decided skip his upcoming final exams and put medical school on hold for a year.

And 58 years ago today, Guevara and Granado mounted a rickety old motorcycle, which they nicknamed La Poderosa, the Mighty One, and departed Buenos Aires. On their way out of Argentina, they stopped at a resort where Guevara’s girlfriend’s family was staying for the summer so that he could say good-bye. His girlfriend gave him $15 to buy her a swimsuit from North America, which he swore he’d starve rather than spend on anything else. Weeks later, he handed the money to a homeless couple.

In Santiago, their sputtering motorcycle broke down for good, and they resorted to hitchhiking for the rest of the trip. From Chile they went to Peru, to a leper colony along the Amazon River where they hung around to treat patients. There he spent many nights awake into the wee hours talking with a Peruvian Marxist; he later cited these conversations as having helped to define his politics.

Guevara and Granado traveled on to Colombia and Venezuela, where Granado stayed to work treating people with leprosy. Guevara boarded a cargo plane to fly back to Argentina by way of Miami. But the plane had engine problems, and Guevara was stuck in Miami for several weeks, and he waited tables and washed dishes to survive.

He made it back to Argentina, sat down and reworked his travel notes years after the journey and wrote contemplative commentary around the descriptions of landscape and people that he’d jotted down while he was out on the road years before; his book The Motorcycle Diaries is actually a memoir. There are a few English translations available, including ones by Ann Wright (1996) and Alexandra Keeble (2003).

Che Guevara wrote in his diary: “I will be on the side of the people … I will take to the barricades and the trenches, screaming as one possessed, will stain my weapons with blood, and, mad with rage, will cut the throat of any vanquished foe I encounter.”

Che Guevara died in 1967 at the age of 39, executed by members of the Bolivian army.


It’s the birthday of Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1943). She’s the author of the highly acclaimed biographies Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976), The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga (1987), and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), as well as The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age Of Journalism (2013), No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (1994), and a memoir. Her latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, was published in September of 2018.

When she was 20 years old, she landed an internship at the State Department in Washington, and a couple of years later she interned with Congress. At 24, she was working at the White House for the Labor Secretary under Lyndon Johnson’s administration. On the side, she was writing, and one of the articles she co-wrote was called “How to Remove LBJ in 1968.” It was a scathing attack of President Johnson’s Vietnam War policy, and it was published in The New Republic.

And then she met the president at a fancy ball at the White House. He knew that she had written and published harsh things about him. But he asked her to dance anyway. At the end of the evening, he asked her to work for him, as a personal assistant.

She taught government at Harvard and helped Johnson write his memoirs. Three years after he died, she published Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976). Reviewers raved, and the book was a huge commercial success — a New York Times best-seller. Soon afterward, Simon & Schuster asked her to write a biography of John F. Kennedy. In the meantime, she’d married a former Kennedy speechwriter, Richard Goodwin, and had access to all sorts of new material, including the personal letters of JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy.

After writing about the Kennedys, she wrote about the Roosevelts, focusing on the marriage of the president and first lady in No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — The Home Front in World War II (1994). For that book she won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. She thought she would write a similarly focused book on Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary. But when she started doing research for the book, she found that “during the [Civil] war, Lincoln was married more to the colleagues in his cabinet —in terms of time he spent with them and the emotion shared — than he was to Mary.” She decided to write a book about Lincoln and some of the men he had appointed to his Cabinet. Specifically, she was interested in men he appointed who before the election had been his political opponents and had campaigned against him. She focused on William Seward, who became Lincoln’s secretary of state; Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general; and Salmon P. Chase, who became the secretary of the Treasury.

Her book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, was published in 2005. The 944-page book was widely talked about around Washington, and during the next presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama mentioned Goodwin’s book in interviews, saying that it’s essential reading for the Oval Office. After he won the Democratic nomination, he named former opponent Joe Biden as his running mate, and after he was elected, he appointed a handful of former rivals to his Cabinet — including Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. The Chicago Tribune reported that “in Obama circles,” the principle of appointing former adversaries to Cabinet positions “goes by the shorthand ‘Team of Rivals,’ from the title of Goodwin’s book.”

Kearns Goodwin is also the author of The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age Of Journalism (2013) and a memoir. Her latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, was published in September of 2018.

Good news: The Writer's Almanac is back as a podcast and an email newsletter! Follow TWA on Facebook, sign up for the email newsletter, and check your favorite podcast app for "The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.


 

Garrison's weekly columns

For full list, click here

Yes, we have now turned the corner

Last week my wife asked me four separate times if I was depressed about something, which I was not, and now, ever since early Sunday morning, I’ve felt mysteriously happy, and I guess that Daylight Saving Time must be the reason. For us in the flat snowy northern tundra regions, turning our clocks forward is the first step toward spring and how can one not rejoice? We await the day when sidewalks are not treacherous and we can escape our squalid hovels and get out and ambulate, and the day in April or May when we can sit outdoors and eat lunch at a plaza and observe the humanity around us. That is where the good life begins, when we escape from Wi-Fi and meet face to face in bright light in our sneakers and T-shirts.

Here in Minnesota, we have two more big snowstorms to endure, the DST storm and then the State High School Basketball Tournament blizzard at the end of the month, and then we’re in the clear. I see younger people out walking even now, but they have headphones on and I worry that they won’t hear the car approaching and will step boldly into the crosswalk while listening to a wealthy pop star screaming that nobody understands her, which would be a wretched way to die, run over by a geezer confused by the stoplight while you are tuned in to the complaints of a multi-multi-millionaire.

It’s been a hard winter, though it was late arriving, and in March I look around my shrinking circle of friends for signs of marital discord. Being cooped up in close quarters can lead to questions — how was I attracted to this (dolt/shrew) and how should I proceed to shed myself of (him/her)? You sit over your organic artisanal oatmeal and your spouse asks if you were aware that the world’s population is 7.6 billion, which you weren’t, and it seems that he or she has read a book about demography and would like to give you the highlights. The combination of demography and oatmeal leads you down into a dark psychological cellar, but how can you say “Shut up” to your mate and not offend her/him? So you stifle yourself and resentment builds and that night, while drying dishes, you drop a precious plate that belonged to your spouse’s grandmother and the spouse stalks out of the room and goes online and Googles “divorce.”

I see no signs of this among the people I know and I’m glad. Divorce is a disaster, even when it is necessary. It is dreadful for children, don’t kid yourself. I am thinking of starting a movement against it, #UsTwo. I may write a book in which I say that forgiveness is the crucial thing in marriage, not justice, not commonality, and that a couple must — not should, but must — go through the ceremonies of affection, the morning embrace, the saying of “I love you” at least fifteen times daily, the touching of the loved one’s shoulders and arm and back whenever within reach, the wholehearted acceptance of the spouse’s irrational whims and impulses. Silence is the enemy. Chitchat is your friend. Small talk is at the center of every long-lived love. Avoid big ideas. Never discuss demography. Now and then put away the oatmeal and have steak and eggs.

My wife is cheerful and I am dour and when people see us on the street, they think, “How good of that young woman to get her uncle out of the Home and into the fresh air.” But we get along very well thanks to our observance of the formalities. The touch on the shoulder, the sudden turning to the other and saying, “I’m in love with you,” and meaning it. If she looks at me over the oatmeal tomorrow and says that Bernie Sanders has won her heart, it honestly won’t matter to me one bit. If she is lured into some exotic cult that wears pointy hats and worships cats and never walks in threes, I’m OK. We are solid.

The world is not as it once was and we know that. The homegrown tomato has almost disappeared from America in favor of species bred for long shelf life so they can be trucked up from Ecuador in the winter, tomatoes that bounce if you drop them because they are bred with genes of tennis balls, and so you no longer bite into a tomato and feel euphoria, but if you are loved and if spring comes soon, you’re going to be OK. It’s just ahead. We’ll sit outdoors and drink coffee and the sun will shine on us, I promise.

I'm only going to say this once

One by one, Democrats are stepping into the arena for the 2020 campaign, and their appeals for donations flutter into my inbox, and I do not envy the young staffers assigned to write importuning letters. To project noble ideals and crisis and chumminess in 250 words is a tough assignment, especially when you know that the first two sentences are all I’ll read.

Twelve hats are in, more on the way, some serious, most delusional. Hotel business in Iowa and New Hampshire will be steady all year and then on Super Tuesday, March 3, the truth will dawn. The stumblers and pretenders, the gasbags and long-shot gamblers, will quietly disappear, and two or three contenders will head into the spring and summer.

It is presumed they’ll be running against the weak incumbent but after the Cohen hearing, one doubts that. D.T. is accepted by everyone over the age of ten, even those who love him, as a dishonest sleazeball with ADD issues, and with Democrats conducting hearings from now till the election, he is going to be in the news more or less nonstop as a national embarrassment. Republicans at last week’s hearing could only heckle Cohen; none of them stood up for his boss and said what a great American he is. His best hope is that Bernie Sanders be the Democrats’ nominee: that’s a race D.T. can win in a walk. America doesn’t want an angry president; wacko is bad enough.

If Joe Biden enters the lists and emerges next March as the front-runner, D.T. will issue a brief statement that, having made the country great again and now wishing to spend quality time with his family, he will retire to Mar-a-Lago and work on his short game. Maybe Sean Hannity will accept the nomination in his place. America is not ready for a man who parts his hair that high on his head. Biden will win and restore normalcy.

The remarkable thing about the Cohen hearing was how unremarkable it was, the whole wretched epic of corruption and dishonesty and egomania. And the remarkable thing about D.T. is how little real damage the grifter has accomplished. We all imagined that the Presidency was a superhuman responsibility, the light burning late in the Oval Office, the great man bearing the world on his shoulders, and now it turns out that a clown with a hair fetish who doesn’t know schist from Shinola can occupy the chair and life goes on much as before. Electricity is flowing, there is milk and butter in the stores. If Justice Ginsburg resigns soon, we will have a Supreme Court straight out of 1857. But your Wi-Fi will still work.

There is a general awareness that we cannot continue trashing the planet as we’ve done, but the crisis grows slowly and AOC can’t promote it to emergency simply by saying so. We don’t want to ride the bus and turn off lawn sprinklers until God sends a prophet in a pillar of fire to scare us, not just a bunch of Ph.Ds. So the Green New Deal, though insightful, is not a winner.

The Mueller report will not usher D.T. out of office. He is a crook and a liar but we’ve known that for two years. Mueller will only add details. The Republican Party is not going to usher him out; he owns them.

What will win for Democrats is a candidate who is presidential. Even people who expect to vote for D.T. are embarrassed by him. Nobody imagines that he represents anything admirable about America. Obama was a good orator. W. was likable. Clinton loved politics. Bush was a war hero. Reagan was genuine. Carter was a man of faith. Ford was a true patriot. Nixon was a master of his craft. Ike was Ike. Each man had biographers who found things to admire. D.T. is as transparent as cellophane, one of the most unloved presidents in our history.

The American electorate wants this man to disappear into the back pages and the Democrats owe it to us to make that happen. This is no time for a great leap forward. It is time for him to go so that journalists can go back to writing nonfiction and Congress can get back into business. Let’s put a woman in charge in 2024. First, let’s have an old white guy with thin hair throw the rascal out.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Solo The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

March 28, 2019

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Owatonna, MN

Owatonna, MN

March 28, 2019

Garrison Keillor heads to Steele County for a solo performance to benefit the Historical Society. 7:30 p.m.

Radio

The Writer’s Almanac for March 26, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 26, 2019

It’s the birthday of Robert Frost (1874), who said, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: March 30, 2013

A Prairie Home Companion: March 30, 2013

Originally from April 2012: Dusty and Lefty provide security on Governors Island, and in Lake Wobegon, Pastor Liz is stopped by the Highway Patrol after a boring blind date.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 25, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 25, 2019

“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
––Gloria Steinem, born this day in 1934

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 24, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 24, 2019

Today is the birthday of Fanny Crosby (1820), who wrote between 3,000 and 8,000 hymns during her lifetime, including “Blessed Assurance.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 23, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 23, 2019

It’s the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857), who published the first American cookbook that came with simple, precise cooking instructions.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 22, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 22, 2019

It’s the birthday of translator Edith Grossman (1936), who translated Don Quixote and many of Gabriel García Marquez’s books.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 21, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 21, 2019

It’s the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685), who, as a teenage organist, criticized the choir, took prolonged absences, and got in fights with bassoonists.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 20, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 20, 2019

The vernal equinox occurs today for the northern hemisphere, the time when the earth’s axis is aligned with the center of the sun.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 19, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 19, 2019

Sixteen years ago on this day, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the Iraq War.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for March 18, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for March 18, 2019

The “Gardner Heist” took place this day in 1990, carried out by a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers with fake mustaches.

Read More
Writing

So that’s over, and what’s next?

Finally it’s coming to an end, two years of speculation, more than what’s been written about the future of American higher education, the American novel, and the planet Earth combined, thanks to that long angular face with the sharp Puritan nose and the stone jaw, a man famous for his silence, and why is the name pronounced MULL-er and not MYOO-ler like all the Muellers I know — what’s going on here? Why the secrecy?

Read More

It’s coming and will find you in due course

I landed in San Francisco last Wednesday just as the rainy season ended and so the city was fresh and green, the Presidio blooming and the meadow in Golden Gate Park where the man with green suspenders walked with his wife who tossed grapes to the squirrels and they came to a quiet spot that seemed to have been waiting for them — that’s from a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti — and if it weren’t for the fact that I have other plans, I could’ve talked my wife into settling down there. It was downright paradisaical. Everywhere I looked, I saw righteous souls who’d spent their lives as Lutheran farmers in North Dakota and now, in the next life, were riding bikes around town and going to yoga and drinking excellent coffee. A young man on a skateboard stopped to talk to me and I thought of asking him if I could take it for a spin.

Read More

Yes, we have now turned the corner

Last week my wife asked me four separate times if I was depressed about something, which I was not, and now, ever since early Sunday morning, I’ve felt mysteriously happy, and I guess that Daylight Saving Time must be the reason. For us in the flat snowy northern tundra regions, turning our clocks forward is the first step toward spring and how can one not rejoice? We await the day when sidewalks are not treacherous and we can escape our squalid hovels and get out and ambulate, and the day in April or May when we can sit outdoors and eat lunch at a plaza and observe the humanity around us. That is where the good life begins, when we escape from Wi-Fi and meet face to face in bright light in our sneakers and T-shirts.

Read More

I’m only going to say this once

One by one, Democrats are stepping into the arena for the 2020 campaign, and their appeals for donations flutter into my inbox, and I do not envy the young staffers assigned to write importuning letters. To project noble ideals and crisis and chumminess in 250 words is a tough assignment, especially when you know that the first two sentences are all I’ll read.

Read More

Why you didn’t see me at the Oscars

I did not host the Academy Awards on Sunday for which I would like to thank the snowstorm that blew across Minnesota early on Sunday morning, high winds, blowing and drifting snow that began around 1 a.m. and got worse and worse. I was in Fergus Falls the night before and of course wanted to be available in case the Academy decided to book a host at the last minute and we saw the forecast of blizzard conditions to the south and decided to hit the road so we could catch a morning flight to LAX if the call came and my little troupe piled into the van with our tour manager Katharine at the wheel and we headed down I-94 toward Minneapolis at 70 mph with our phones at the ready.

Read More

What do men want? Let me tell you.

Ever since the American Psychological Association came out last fall and said what everyone knows — that men are the problem: our stoicism, the crazy aggressive behaviors, the compulsive competitiveness, the rescuer complex — I’ve been watching the women in white in Congress, the Sisters of Mercy out to save the Republic, and enjoying their leaders, Speaker Pelosi and AOC. They’re fearless, free-spirited and often very funny. When AOC addresses her opponents as “Dude,” you know that change is afoot. The old Congress of time-servers and bootlickers is starting to look more like the freewheeling country we love.

Read More

A few words from a top executive

Now that Executive Time has taken root at the top level of government, I am working more of it into my own busy schedule, leaving the Rectangular Office and holing up in the family quarters for what some might call daydreaming, but who cares what they think? They’re losers. Six hours a day of letting the mind wander freely, forgetting about my obligations, and simply roaming the Internet and picking up bits of information that my staff would probably never clue me in on.

Read More

Winter is winter, it’s not the tribulation

It irks me, the notion that winter is a dreadful tribulation. Weather forecasts delivered in funereal tones as if two or three inches of snow were an outbreak of typhus, a front-page story about a snowstorm “lashing” New England. A whip lashes; snow falls gently to earth. 

Read More

The old indoorsman looks out at winter

Bitter cold in Minneapolis last week with a high of nine below one day, which is colder than a witch’s body part, but we do have central heating in our building and I am no longer employed as a parking lot attendant as I was when I was 19, responsible for herding drivers into double straight lines as a bitter wind blew across the frozen tundra, and so, as we in Minnesota often say, “It could be worse.” Especially if you were married to a witch.  

Read More

Waiting for snow, hoping, praying

It has snowed a smidge in Minneapolis and I went to church Sunday to give thanks for it and ask for more. The TV weatherman talks about who might be “hit by” a snowstorm and who might “escape,” as if the flakes carry an infectious disease, but snow is light, it does not hit anybody so that you’d feel it, and true Minnesotans love a snowstorm, the hush of it, the sense of blessedness, as Degas loved the female form and Cezanne cared about apples. I thank God for all three, apples, women, and snow, and also for my good health.

Read More

Two options for staying in touch:

  • Subscribe to the “Garrison Keillor” list to receive a weekly email including his latest column, excerpts from Garrison’s books, news about upcoming shows and projects, plus links to performances, TWA & APHC merchandise, and poetry features.
  • Subscribe to “The Writer’s Almanac” list to receive a DAILY email that includes the classic “on this day in history” section, a poem, and a link to listen to that day’s episode.

Prairie Home Productions News


To submit poetry books for consideration to be used on The Writer’s Almanac, please mail to:

Prairie Home Productions/TWA
410 Oak Grove Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

Get In Touch
Send Message