Taking a break from the news

The sign by my seat said, “Fasten seatbelt whilst seated,” so clearly it was a British airline. My daughter and wife were alongside me and we were off to Europe for a break from the news. Our mad king had essentially been indicted in sworn testimony, and he claimed vindication and offered to testify under oath, forgetting the one he’d taken in January. Crazy times; it’s good to go away.

Read the full column at the Washington Post’s site →

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Garrison Keillor

Advice from Mr. Blue

"Dating in middle age, choosing a publisher, and making yourself heard"

Dear Mr. Blue, I am a corporate speechwriter and a copywriter. I am 55.5 and would like to meet the right man who enjoys words. I placed a personal ad but got a response from a man in Federal Prison. It seemed intrusive to ask how he landed himself there, so I didn't respond. I've got many friends and I'm perfectly okay-looking. What should…>>


Weekly column

A friendly column, nothing about him whatsoever

The lilacs are in bloom out at the old family homestead and it’s pleasant to stand by the bushes and smell them and recall that the outhouse used to stand a few feet away. Who does not feel his faith in resurrection strengthened by this news? We’ve all been stinkers at times but once we leave the body behind, we shall bloom in the life to come.

My ancestors settled on that land in 1880, and my father once drove a manure spreader in the field near the lilacs, pulled by a team of four horses. They were heading downhill and he maybe forgot to apply the brake and the spreader clipped the hind horses’ legs and they bolted and took off down the road, my dad hanging on for dear life. The spreader tipped over when the horses galloped around a corner and my father leaped clear and landed in a ditch, no bones broken. He wrote a clear account of this in a letter to the city girl he hoped to marry, a harrowing story about the fragility of life and how death waits for us when we least expect it and so we should take hold of love and happiness when it presents itself. It was a well-written narrative and it won her heart and that’s where I come from, a rare venture into journalism by a taciturn man.

I’ve found love and happiness, thank you, and what I’m looking for now is a new vocation, a purpose, a mission. A man can’t just lie in a hammock and identify birds. The birds don’t need us to tell them who they are. Travel for travel’s sake doesn’t interest me, nor sack races, sock hops, secular humanism, or psychics. I turn 76 soon and so there’s no time for retraining. I once wanted to be a waiter or a bus driver but those doors, I’m sure, have closed.

Meanwhile, something dreadful is surely waiting for me up ahead. Over the years, I have filled out thousands of forms and always checked the little box saying I accept the terms and conditions and never have I read those terms and conditions. Eventually those terms and conditions will come due. I know it and you know it.

Searching for a new purpose in life, I depend on my wife for guidance, as I do in so many matters. She tells me, “Smile at people. Offer your hand. Ask them how they are today and listen pleasantly as they tell you.” Somehow in my old age I’ve taken on a grim expression without meaning to. I’m happy as can be, contented and serene, and friends ask me if something’s wrong. Evidently my default face is that of an ogre.

My generation was not a lighthearted bunch. We produced Bob Dylan, who is not a guy you’d willingly go on a long car trip with. We were a skeptical, brooding, cranky bunch, and I can see that now when I hang out with my grandson. He is congenial and so are his friends and people his age. Totally. I see them walking around with their smartphones, which contain a GPS app that beeps when a friend is in the vicinity, and this app guides them to each other — the electronic lady voice says, “Coffee shop, 100 feet ahead on your left. Outdoor table by the door.” And the two friends sit down side by side and they text each other, “Hey how R U?” while checking their e-mail, Twitter, and Snapchat to see what their other friends are up to. If they are boys, they play a video game in which hooded assassins dash across a devastated landscape and wreak destruction and attempt to kill each other. If they are girls, they exchange pictures of their cats.

I don’t have the dexterity to do those things so I am limited to personal contact. But friendliness is a good enough vocation, I think, for these twilight years. I come from separatist fundamentalist people who sincerely believed that you are going to hell because you don’t accept the truth that was revealed to them. So it goes against my principles to befriend you but I’m going to do it anyway. I have nothing to sell you, don’t worry. I don’t care whom you voted for last time. I’m going to be friendly because my wife told me to be. When you’re loved by a person as good as she, you pay attention to what she says.

Have a wonderful day, friend. Thinking about you, wishing you all the best.

Last week's column

Someone to sit next to me

There was so much good news last week. Gorillas appear to be thriving, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, and there are about 361,919 of them, twice as many as had been believed. Humpback whales, who were nearly hunted out of existence in the 19thcentury, are making a comeback in the seas off Antarctica: the birth rate is on the upswing, according to a new study. (The animals are the size of a school bus and have a life expectancy similar to ours.) And a study at the University of Michigan shows that people who work out even 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who don’t.

This is science, people. This isn’t fake news. These conclusions are based on actual facts established through observation by people who can count. What I learn from this is that it brightens your day to skip the front-page stuff about Washington and focus on science. Someday I expect to find a study showing that 75-year-old men who rode school buses as children have a longer life expectancy. That’s me.

I rode a school bus for six years, 12 miles each way morning and afternoon, on a highway in Minnesota, cornfields to the west, the Mississippi to the east. I stood at the end of a gravel road, a gawky kid with wire-rim glasses, wearing second-hand clothes, knowing there would not be an empty seat because mine was the last stop. The bus pulled up, the door opened, I climbed aboard, and the driver waited until I sat down before he started the bus. Nobody squeezed together to make room so I had to pick out a seat with skinny girls in it and hurl myself at them and hold on for dear life as they tried to shove me out when the bus went around a sharp curve. This is a fact.

I had emotional problems in my youth — who didn’t? — and a religious crisis and a search for identity, all of that — but the struggle for seating on the bus was my No. 1 problem. My mother had five other children so I didn’t bother her with this. The school had no grief counselors that I could discuss it with. I had to pull up my socks and fight for a few inches of seat, enough for one cheek, and hang on with all my might.

Now you know why I avoid public transportation. And when I fly, if I’m upgraded to First Class, my heart sings.

Six years of classmates resisting my physical presence had a big effect on me. I learned to not be put off by rejection, that all you need is one acceptance. Somewhere on the school bus of life is one beautiful person who will move over and make room for you. That is all you need.

The fellow passenger who has made room for me all these years happens to be a professional musician, trained to read tiny insect tracks on a page and perform as indicated while a man with wild hair waves a stick in the air. She is no slacker, in other words. She has run a marathon, given birth to a child, hiked alone through foreign landscapes, lived close to the poverty line in New York City, and recently read Anna Karenina. She tends the plants in the yard and knows their names. She is well-versed on social convention and has sound opinions about music, books, and design. She is more than capable.

It’s a comedy routine when she’s around and a lovely system of checks and balances. I say, “Let’s put a ping-pong table in the living room” and she says, “I’d rather we didn’t” and so we don’t.

She says, “You’re not wearing that tie with that shirt, are you?” “Not anymore,” I say. She points discreetly at her left nostril and hands me a tissue. She reminds me of the name of that woman with the glasses (Liz) whom I ought to know — I told my wife, “Her and me went to school together” so that she’d have the satisfaction of saying, “She and I went to school together.” “No,” I said, “You’re 15 years younger; you didn’t go to school with Liz and me.”

The loner with the guitar is the American hero, but I love a member of the orchestra, and try to submerge my individuality into a good marriage. The secret of civility is synchronicity. The gorillas and whales know that and now I think I do too.

A series of poems read by Garrison

Writing

The Quotable Keillor

“Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.”
― Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married: Stories & Letters

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“If you lived today as if it were your last, you’d buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn’t you?”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“I can see how I could write a bold account of myself as a passionate man who rose from humble beginnings to cut a wide swath in the world, whose crimes along the way might be written off to extravagance and love and art, and could even almost believe some of it myself on certain days after the sun went down if I’d had a snort or two and was in Los Angeles and it was February and I was twenty-four, but I find a truer account in the Herald-Star, where it says: “Mr. Gary Keillor visited at the home of Al and Florence Crandall on Monday and after lunch returned to St. Paul, where he is currently employed in the radio show business… Lunch was fried chicken with gravy and creamed peas”.”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“The rich can afford to be progressive. Poor people have reason to be afraid of the future.”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

Read More

A friendly column, nothing about him whatsoever

The lilacs are in bloom out at the old family homestead and it’s pleasant to stand by the bushes and smell them and recall that the outhouse used to stand a few feet away. Who does not feel his faith in resurrection strengthened by this news? We’ve all been stinkers at times but once we leave the body behind, we shall bloom in the life to come.

Read More

Someone to sit next to me

There was so much good news last week. Gorillas appear to be thriving, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, and there are about 361,919 of them, twice as many as had been believed. Humpback whales, who were nearly hunted out of existence in the 19th century, are making a comeback in the seas off Antarctica: the birth rate is on the upswing, according to a new study. (The animals are the size of a school bus and have a life expectancy similar to ours.) And a study at the University of Michigan shows that people who work out even 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who don’t.

Read More
Dating in middle age, choosing a publisher, and making yourself heard

Dating in middle age, choosing a publisher, and making yourself heard

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a corporate speechwriter and a copywriter. I am 55.5 and would like to meet the right man who enjoys words. I placed a personal ad but got a response from a man in Federal Prison. It seemed intrusive to ask how he landed himself there, so I didn’t respond. I’ve got many friends and I’m perfectly okay-looking. What should I be doing? Taking trips? Moving to another country with a shortage of middle-aged women? Making a systematic request to my entire list of acquaintances to ask them to produce one person? What would you do? I am about to give up.  

-Exhausted by Love

Read More

What’s been going on around here lately

The Swedish Academy’s decision to not award the Nobel Prize in Literature this spring hit me hard, of course. I figured this would be my year and was counting on the cash prize of a cool million bucks. A man needs a little boost now and then. I know I do. People associate me with radio but I was also a Novelist — okay? Novels. With characters and dialogue. Lonely guys looking out rain-spattered windows at bare trees and wondering, “Who am I anyway?”

I did some of that last Saturday morning. I am married to a perfectionist, and so my faults are more clear to me than necessary. I am 75 years old, people. How many men of 75 are actively engaged in self-improvement? Are there rehab programs for us? Inspirational books aimed at us? No.

Read More

Forgot password? Try “LIFEISGOOD42J75#REAL”

It’s spring in Minnesota finally. My lawn is greenish, birds sing in the morning, we go walking in a sweater, no gloves. There is still ice on the lakes, but if you don’t look at them, you don’t notice. Life is good. This is not pointed out often enough, the goodness of life, because journalists know that Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for exposing corruption and sending the mayor to jail for skimming money off the School Milk Fund so the kiddos get 2% rather than whole milk, it’s not given for writing about a walk in the park on a sunny day. Nonetheless, we do have parks and the sun does shine.

Read More
A runaway lover, text problems, and dinner duties

A runaway lover, text problems, and dinner duties

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m a single 51-year-old who’s been enjoying the outdoorsy life in Denver for the past fifteen years. I have a nice condo, good friends, a great job in the tech industry. Up until a month ago I thought I had the ideal life—and then my lover of eight years left me for another woman. He said he’d met her through friends and that they’d “clicked” in some magical way he’d never felt before. After he told me, he still slept at my condo that night (albeit in the guest room), and then he was gone the next morning.

Read More

A winning candidate for 2020

Finally we see some spring in Minnesota, temperatures edging into the 50s, maybe 60s, snow gone except in the crevices, green grass, the miracle of going outdoors in shirtsleeves. It’s like the Rapture except that everyone gets to enjoy it, not just the select few. We who were brought up not to complain have been moaning for a month, and we feel bad about that and intend to atone for it by being good to people who have not been nice to us, if we can think of any.

Read More
Exes, etiquette, and losing a spark

Exes, etiquette, and losing a spark

Dear Mr. Blue,

I can’t get over my ex. We dated a few years ago and when we broke up, even though it was mutual, I was devastated. At 22 years old, it was my first time being in love, and my first time being heartbroken. The relationship itself had been turbulent: he was a night owl and an alcoholic while I found solace in routine and generally healthy habits—except for the part where I would drop everything to be with him, at any time. Still, we found common ground in our worldviews, artistic sensibilities, and appreciation for the finer things in life, such as good food and luxurious hours spent in bed. He was very sweet and attentive when he wasn’t arguing with me about how long to stay at the bar. We started dating again about a year later, magnetically drawn to one another once again despite my better instincts, but I eventually dumped him over our conflicting lifestyles.

Read More

The true story of last weekend’s blizzard

A yuge blizzard descended on Minnesota over the weekend and all of our people who went south for the winter got back home in time to experience it. It was truly yuge, a fabulous blizzard and the snow was up to the housetops and the highway patrol said, “Stay in your homes. Do not drive on account of rabid wolves and jackals running loose.” But some of us went out anyway because that’s how we are. America was not settled by the timid.

Read More
Radio

A Part-Time Job in Radio

Garrison discusses what he likes about his “part-time job” as a radio host.

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Summer in Lake Wobegon

Garrison talks about summer in Lake Wobegon and a few of the town’s guiding principles.

Read More

I Come From Lake Wobegon

Garrison describes growing up in Lake Wobegon.

Read More

Cinecast Oh Glory How Happy I Am

An all-star cast performs “Oh Glory How Happy I Am,” written by the Reverend Gary Davis. Featuring Pat Donohue, Robin & Linda Williams, Garrison Keillor, Heather Masse, Jearlyn Steele, Jevetta Steele, and the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band as led by Richard Dworsky. This was the last song on the February 4, 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, and doubles as a credits reel for the DVD.

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Cinecast Calling My Children Home

Garrison Keillor, Heather Masse, Robin and Linda Williams perform the traditional song “Calling My Children Home,” accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano. From the February 4, 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, which was recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN, and broadcast live into movie theaters.

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Cinecast Too Gone

“It’s too late, and it’s too bad, she’s too gone.” Mr. Pat Donohue plays a tune of his called “Too Gone,” with accompaniment by the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band, Heather Masse, Garrison Keillor. From the February 4, 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, which was recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN, and broadcast live into movie theaters.

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Cinecast Lives of the Cowboys

“Brought to you by Buffalo Bill’s skin moisturizer. It smells just like whiskey, so nobody will ever know!” From the 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, which was recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN, and broadcast live into movie theaters. This Dusty & Lefty script features our cast actors, Fred Newman and Tom Keith on SFX, Erica Rhodes, Heather Masse, Elvis Costello, and Garrison Keillor as the cowboy hero Jack Trueblood, a lonely man with a mysterious past.

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Cinecast Back in the Day

“Back in the day, my little daughter, we didn’t pay for a bottle of water.” From the 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, which was recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN, and broadcast live into movie theaters. Backed by the Guy’s All-Star Show Band, Garrison sings a song for his little girl about what life was like back in the day.

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Cinecast Coffee Script

“Civilization is a thin veneer when the supply of coffee gets low.” From the 2010 cinecast episode of A Prairie Home Companion, which was recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, MN, and broadcast live into movie theaters. This coffee script features Jearlyn Steele on vocals, Fred Newman on SFX, Tim Russell and Sue Scott in their acting roles, and Elvis Costello as a coffeeshop villain.

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John Clare – The Sweetest Woman There (excerpt)

I loved her lip her cheek her eye She cheered my midnight gloom
A bonny rose ‘neath God’s own sky In one perrenial bloom
She lives ‘mid pastures evergreen And meadows ever fair
Each winter spring and summer scene The sweetest woman there

Read More
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