The Writer’s Almanac for April 1, 2019


Why I Practice Yoga
by Hayden Saunier

Each breath is a choice
between miracle
and grievance,
the yoga teacher says.

Oh make me puke, I think.

I’m flat on my back,
in savasana, the corpse pose,
alongside thirty other people.

We’re trying to leave our bodies
while we’re still alive.

I can hear you laughing now

from wherever you went
when you died.

That’s good.
I’ve missed your laugh.

“Why I Practice Yoga” by Hayden Saunier from Tips for Domestic Travel. © Black Lawrence Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Today is April Fools’ Day, the day for pranks and hoaxes. One such famous April Fools’ Day hoax was the so-called “Jupiter Effect” of 1976. During an interview on BBC Radio 2, British astronomer Patrick Moore announced that a very rare planetary event was about to take place—that Jupiter and Pluto would soon align in relation to Earth, and their combined gravitational pull would momentarily override Earth’s own gravity and make people weigh less. He called it the Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect, and said that if people jumped in the air at exactly 9:47 a.m., they would experience a floating sensation. Moore signaled, “Jump now!” over the airwaves, and within minutes the BBC switchboard was flooded with calls from people who claimed it had worked. 


It was on this day in 1826 that Samuel Morey received a patent for his compressionless “Gas or Vapor Engine,” known now as the internal combustion engine. Morey started out working with steam engines in the late 18th century, inventing a steam-powered paddle-wheel boat, for which he tried to find backers. The backing fell through due to “a series of misfortunes,” and though he continued to work with steam engines, he didn’t work with boats much after this.

In the early 1800s, he developed an interest in flammable vapors; in an 1834 letter, he writes: “It is now more than twenty years since I have been in the constant, I may say daily practice of making experiments on the decomposition of water, by mixing with its vapor that of spirits of turpentine, and a great portion of atmospheric air.” He discovered that turpentine, when mixed with air, was explosive, and he designed an engine to make use of this phenomenon. Much like our modern engines, Morey’s had a carburetor, two cylinders, valves, and cams, but rather than using the explosion itself to provide the power, his system forced air into a cooled cylinder, which formed a vacuum.

He wrote, “Is there not some reason to expect that the discovery will greatly change the commercial and personal intercourse of the country.”


It’s the birthday of Czech author Milan Kundera (books by this author), born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1929. Best known for his novels, especially The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978), and The Joke (1967), he has also written three poetry collections, four plays, and numerous essays and short stories.

Kundera was born into a middle-class family with deep roots in music. His father, Ludvik, was a pianist and musicologist, and Milan also studied musicology and composition as well as literature and aesthetics at Charles University in Prague. He then transferred to the Academy of Performing Arts in the same city, studying scriptwriting and film direction. After he graduated in 1952, the Film Faculty appointed him a lecturer in world history. During the early 1950s, he was expelled from the Communist Party for anti-party activities, and then readmitted in 1956. His early writings, especially his poems, were pro-Marxist, and he was active in the “Prague Spring,” a brief period of Communist reform in 1968. The Soviets banned his books after their invasion later that year. He was expelled again from the Communist Party in 1970, left Prague for France with his wife, Vera, a banned newscaster, in 1975, and was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979. Immortality, published in 1990, was his last novel written in Czech; now he writes in French, and is adamant that he be considered a novelist, not a political writer.

Kundera is just as likely to be inspired by philosophers and composers as he is other writers, and often thinks about his novels in musical terms. In an interview with the Paris Review, he said, “I first thought of The Unbearable Lightness of Being in a musical way. I knew that the last part had to be pianissimo and lento: it focuses on a rather short, uneventful period, in a single location, and the tone is quiet. I also knew that this part had to be preceded by a prestissimo: that is the part entitled ‘The Grand March.'” 


Apple was founded on this date in 1976. The company was formed by Steve Jobs, his friend Steve Wozniak, and a man named Ronald Wayne, who had worked with Jobs at Atari. The partners planned to produce and sell Apple personal computer kits, hand-assembled by Wozniak. They weren’t personal computers as we think of them today, but were rather just motherboards.

The company was incorporated the following January, but this time without Wayne; he had lost his nerve after a couple of weeks, and sold his 10 percent share back to Jobs and Wozniak for a little over $2,000. Had he held onto it, that share would be worth around $22 billion USD today.

Wayne said later that he did not regret selling the stock—he said, “I made the best decision with the information available to me at the time.” He went into the stamp and rare coin business, and didn’t own an Apple computer until 2011 when he was given an iPad 2.

A modest proposal: Make today a new day

The beauty of quarantine is that you don’t have to see people you don’t want to see, which simplifies life, just as memory loss does. Life comes down to basics. Sleeping, eating, talking, reading, writing, cooking, doing your business. Days are so quiet that a cup of ginger tea might be a highlight or my wife’s beautiful shoulders where she stands in the kitchen and I put my hands on her, and feel like singing a few lines of Verdi’s “Celeste Aida”. But she’s slicing onions for supper so I don’t. Never sing a big aria to a woman holding a knife, she may forget which opera this is.

In the opera, Aida is locked in a tomb with her lover, Radamès, which is like quarantine but without grocery deliveries and no Zoom. Saturday I did a Zoom chat with fellow workers from back in our touring days, doing shows, and we reminisced about shows in outdoor venues in the rain and the show from Yellowstone where a bison lay down to sleep in front of the satellite dish and the show where squirrels ate the mike cables, the show in Dublin where the audience was completely schnockered.

We won’t be sitting around telling pandemic stories five years from now, stories about sitting on the terrace and looking at the moon, and that’s okay by me. I’m not as interested in stories as I was back in the day. Since January 2017, the nation has seen a thousand fascinating stories out of Washington, each one with the same name in the headline, all of them unbelievable and fascinating, and after three years, a person is exhausted. What remains to happen? Will there be a big statue of him holding a Bible? Will he sign an executive order making the coronavirus go away? Will Jared be put in charge of the Pentagon?

My wife, who I almost sang Verdi to, said a sweet thing the other day. She said, “I wish people would just focus on the future, rather than the past.” I had been saying something about renaming our national capital because George and Martha had 300 slaves, renaming it Emerson after Ralph Waldo who had no slaves and had all his teeth and said smart things, such as “If a man can make a better mousetrap, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” He recommended good books, good friends, and a sleepy conscience. He was in favor of curiosity and science and ambition. All Washington said was “I cannot tell a lie” and that was not true. He was a general who got lucky and caught the British in a trap. Emerson was a philosopher and a poet. If you renamed Washington Emerson, people would start reading him and this would be a far better country.

But she’s right. This country is guilty of mistreating its children. Seventeen million of them struggle to get enough food; malnutrition in the first three years of life can cause enduring problems. Lousy schools limit a child’s prospects for a happy life. Feeding and teaching children are things we know how to do. A sensible society looks after its children, its future. Nothing you do for children is wasted. We can condemn each other for old mistakes, but if we decide that 2021 is a new start and we start looking forward with a clear eye, then we can get somewhere. If Mississippi can finally surrender the Confederacy and take down its flag, there’s hope for the rest of us.

The city of Washington is an object of general scorn and abuse across the land. Let’s wipe the slate clean, rename it Emerson, and restart the idea of good government and common sense. We desperately need his optimism. “Trust thyself,” he said. “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries. Let us not be invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, advancing on Chaos and the Dark.” This year, we’ve seen the worst. Good. Now we know what it is. Now we can rise above it and join forces and work for what should be, equality, justice, prosperity, and good sense.

“Bad times have a scientific value,” he said. “These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” Washington state and all the Washington counties are enough for George. “This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” No need to make a statue of Ralph on a horse, just quoting him is good enough.

Some good advice from an old memoirist. Take it.

My advice to you, young people, is to start asking questions of your elders about family history and who did what when and why and don’t stop until you get answers because, though you’re much too cool to be interested in family history now, someday you’ll want to know these things and by that time they will all be dead.

Okay? Read that paragraph over a couple of times to yourself and then go do it.

I’m trying to finish a memoir and I realize now how much I don’t know and I was too busy careering around as my elders began taking the long walk and I didn’t sit down and ask for the story. My elders were self-effacing Midwesterners brought up not to talk about personal things and they kept many secrets from me such as how did the men fall in love with the women and vice versa, they being such righteous folk and sensible and circumspect. Mother came from a family of thirteen, Dad from eight, and when I knew them, they were all settled in comfortable marriages, and what I want to know is what transpired when they were infatuated and savoring sensual moments and looking forward to throwing caution to the wind.

It happened, even in cautious Christian families like mine. I see the pictures of my youthful aunts in their white summer dresses sashaying around the lakes of Minneapolis and I sense adventure and light-heartedness, not wary mothers I knew them as.

I know that my parents met on July 4, 1931, as teenagers at a picnic at the Keillor farm and were crazy about each other but I wish I’d asked them for more details. He was a farmboy, she was a city girl, slender and shy, and they didn’t marry until six years later, it being the Depression and all, but what happened in those six years? I grew up with two parents who held hands and flirted with each other all their long lives and I’m grateful and I want to know how come and there’s nobody left to ask.

I write about my life, the lost world of hitchhiking, which I knew as a kid and got picked up by angry half-drunk men who raged against the government, their bosses, their Army commanders, their wives, and I got a view of life you couldn’t get in school or from the newspaper. It’s gone and so are the downtown department stores of Minneapolis, the smells and bells, the ladies with white gloves who ran the elevators. I went to a state university back when tuition was so cheap you could pay for your education with a part-time low-wage job, no debt, no need to ask your dad for money, and so you were free to make impractical plans such as become a writer of fiction. I came from a fundamentalist family that was wary of higher education and I plunged into campus life and before I knew it I had four close friends, Larry and Barry and Maury and Arnie, all of them Jewish. I did an early-morning radio show back when people listened to radio religiously, before YouTube and Google and InnerTube and Bugle and iPod and pPod and all the other platforms.

It’s all interesting, but it’s the love stories that a person craves. You want to know that you’re descended from passionate irresponsibility, not a business arrangement or a science experiment, but two people mysteriously drawn to each other. My mother’s parents, William and Marian, courted in Glasgow and she was four months pregnant when they married. Their brood of thirteen children testifies to their feelings for each other. Dad’s parents, James and Dora, were twenty years apart in age. He was an old bachelor on the school board and she was a teacher; she boarded with him and his sister. He came to school and helped her clean blackboards and clap erasers and he kissed her and they ran off and got married. They came home in the buggy and he left the horses standing in harness all night, the reins on the ground, as he carried Dora into the house, his sister having disembarked for a house up the road. It’s good to know these things.

Sit your people down and ask questions. The secret of investigative journalism is: ask questions and keep asking — people want to spill the beans, they just need some warming up. Apply the heat. You will thank me for this someday. I won’t be around but you’re welcome.

In mid-June, we look ahead and think big

I’ve now spent three months in a Manhattan apartment with my wife and daughter, a life that is not so different from, say, living in a lighthouse in the Orkneys. We can see tall buildings, some bright lights, helicopters overhead, but it’s not the New York high life I dreamed of growing up in Minnesota. The problem is that I like it just fine. Solitude suits me pretty well. So why am I here?

I look back at dining out and I don’t miss it, two hours in a loud room where waiters with big personalities serve you tiny portions of a dish that includes much too much lentils to be worth $48. I look back at dinner parties and most of them were two hours too long and the conversation felt like a rehash of the Op-Ed page.

In quarantine, you learn that there’s a lot to be said for a fifteen-minute phone conversation with one other person who’s been in lockdown too and is excited by verbal communication with another human being.

I’m not complaining. People have died from the virus, many of them my age (77). I’m a writer, a trade that can be practiced in a lighthouse as well as in New York. I loved working in the reading room of the New York Public Library but sitting in my kitchen in the month of May, I wrote a novel about a small town in Minnesota. It can be done.

I’m a hermit in a cave. My daughter is fully engaged with her social circle via electronics that I, having grown up with a paper tablet and a No. 2 pencil, know zilch about. My wife knows about it and Zooms with people and puts on a mask and walks through Central Park and I, the fragile old guy with underlying conditions and other conditions lying under those, sit in my room and am okay with that. What once was a punishment is now a privilege.

Thanks to a sensible governor, New York has come through the plague reasonably well, but now comes the hard part: do we want to stay?

I came here because in the eighth grade, a teacher handed me a copy of the New Yorker magazine with a story by John Cheever and I loved his writing and loved the magazine, the urbanity, the humor, the curiosity. I once saw John Updike on the downtown Broadway local train, a thrilling experience. I once went to a party at a writer’s that was so wonderful I stayed until 5 a.m. and stood on the street and felt too happy to go home to bed. I bought a notebook at a newsstand and went to a café and sat and wrote and had breakfast. People passing, heading for the subway, the writer deep into invention.

For true New Yorkers, the city is the only place to be. But for a guy who wrote a novel in the back bedroom? I don’t think so. I don’t need to see Times Square and its flashing signs and canyons of glass where rivers of humanity move through, most of them simply for the experience of being in Times Square.

Locked up for three months, I’ve lost interest in the big city. The Orkneys have sandstone cliffs, seal colonies, and the electricity is wind-generated. Exports include beef, whiskey, cheese, and seafood. The climate is mild, thanks to the Gulf Stream. There are sheep and many lighthouses. Surely there would be one that would welcome a lightkeeper.

It sounds wonderful to me, sleeping in a room under the glass dome, the light sweeping over the North Sea, the sense of public service, warning fishermen from the rocks. Being the only novelist on the island. And I’d escape from the heavy burden of being an American, which has become onerous lately. In my Orknitude, I would only be an old man in a tower and a provider of light.

It’s a perfect plan and now all I need to do is convince my wife. I’m looking at her now as she reads the paper. Surely a man with my language skills can sway this woman’s heart. My darling, my love, take my hand, let us speak of things to come. We’ve done New York. Let me tell you of a wonderful place far away. Put your trust in your husband. If, after ten years, you don’t like the island of Graemsay, I promise we’ll move straight back.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule
Radio

To sign up for the daily Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter, please click here.

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, July 2, 2020

It’s the birthday of civil rights activist, lawyer, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908), who sat on the Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, July 1, 2020

It’s the birthday of French novelist George Sand, born Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804), who originally wanted to be a nun, but her grandmother wouldn’t let her.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On this day in 1860, a heated debate on the merits of the theory of evolution took place at Oxford University. “The Origin of Species” had been published 7 months earlier.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 29, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 29, 2020

“All grown-ups were once children — although few of them remember it.” –the children’s author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born this day in 1900

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: July 4, 2009

A Prairie Home Companion: July 4, 2009

A very special show, it’s the rebroadcast of our 35th anniversary! A fourth of July celebration sure to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 28, 2020

In the early hours of this day in 1969, the Stonewall uprising broke out in New York City, marking the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 27, 2020

It’s the birthday of poet Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), whose career choice was inspired by the fact that her father so disapproved of her mother writing poetry.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 26, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 26, 2020

On this day 20 years ago, scientific teams completed the first rough map of the human genome. One finding: the human species goes back 7,000 generations.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 25, 2020

70 years ago today, North Korea invaded South Korea. The Korean War became the first war that the United States concluded without success.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 24, 2020

It was on this day in 1374 in Aachen, Germany that an outbreak of dancing plague or dancing mania, also known as St. Vitus’ Dance, first began.

Read More
Writing

A modest proposal: Make today a new day

The beauty of quarantine is that you don’t have to see people you don’t want to see, which simplifies life, just as memory loss does. Life comes down to basics. Sleeping, eating, talking, reading, writing, cooking, doing your business. Days are so quiet that a cup of ginger tea might be a highlight or my wife’s beautiful shoulders where she stands in the kitchen and I put my hands on her, and feel like singing a few lines of Verdi’s “Celeste Aida”. But she’s slicing onions for supper so I don’t. Never sing a big aria to a woman holding a knife, she may forget which opera this is.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Sunday, June 28, 2020

I loved sitting and admiring Erica Rhodes on Zoom last night from a comedy club in Minneapolis.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Saturday, June 27, 2020

The reason to write a novel is to say what you think in a form that allows enormous freedom — you can put the thoughts in different characters.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Friday, June 26, 2020

An exciting day, editing galleys and I’m down to the last twenty pages. The end is in sight. An author has to be a tough critic, especially an old one.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A lovely evening on our New York terrace made even lovelier by the host, 77, arising from his chair, tripping on it, losing his balance, then stumbling over.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Who can explain why conversation flows thick with some people and thin with others? For one thing, with true friends, you’re not so bound by orthodoxy.

Read More

Some good advice from an old memoirist. Take it.

My advice to you, young people, is to start asking questions of your elders about family history and who did what when and why and don’t stop until you get answers because, though you’re much too cool to be interested in family history now, someday you’ll want to know these things and by that time they will all be dead.

Okay? Read that paragraph over a couple of times to yourself and then go do it.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father’s Day, what shall I do? A burnt-out bulb to unscrew? Does the A/C compressor need repair? Yes, sir, Soon as I find super glue.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Friday, June 19, 2020

My family is extremely considerate of the writer in their midst and during the quarantine they disappear into corners of the apartment and let him be.

Read More

The News from Manhattan: Thursday, June 18, 2020

I’m in quarantine and not about to march in the street, so what’s to be done? Listen, read, pay attention, and send money to places where it’ll do good.

Read More

Email sign-up:

Sign up for the weekly Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion email newsletter here >>>

Sign up for the daily The Writer’s Almanac email newsletter here >>>

If you’d like to sign up for BOTH newsletters, you may do so here >>>


Submit to The Writer’s Almanac:

We are not accepting new poetry at this time. For questions, please contact twa@garrisonkeillor.com


ShopGarrisonKeillor.com Questions 

For questions related to items you have ordered from our store, please contact Katharine at kseggerman@garrisonkeillor.com


Get In Touch
Send Message

Press Kit

If you are hosting a show with Garrison, please feel free to use the below press photos for marketing, as well as the below short biography. Promo video for purpose of booking is available here.

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald

To shop merchandise related to Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, and The Writer’s Almanac, visit our new online store >>>