- RADIO -

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 19, 2022
"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." -- Bertrand Russell, philosopher, born on this day in 1872.

- Radio -

A Prairie Home Companion: May 21, 2005
Our 2005 classic features guests: The Wailin' Jennys; from the Shetland Islands, Ale Moller and Aly Bain.; and from right here at home: the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band and our Royal Academy of Radio Acting.

- WRITING -

Boom Town preview
Read the first chapter of Garrison's newest Lake Wobegon novel, BOOM TOWN, and find out where to purchase.

Read Chapter One here

- PRESS -

2022 performances
2022 shows include: NEW APHC American Revival in Nashville TN; Lincoln City, IN; Bend, OR; Livermore, CA; Nashville, IN; Newark, OH; Kent, OH; Fish Creek, WI;and more

Click here for details
Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s newest novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

 

Praise for Boom Town:

“Wonderfully over-the-top. Blisteringly funny, acute, and true. Keillor’s speaking to us with encouragement and empathy about the American life. But at the same time, he’s got our number that way he’s always had it. This book is a tonic.” —Richard Ford

 

“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

Download the audiobook as mp3s  >>>

Listen to the audiobook via Audible >>>

Read it on Kindle >>>

 

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If you want a story, sit down and I'll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

President Biden came to Minneapolis to speak at a memorial service for Walter Mondale and he told a story about his arrival at the Senate at the age of 30, soon after the death of his wife and little girl in a car crash, and how Walter and Joan Mondale befriended him, a genuine loving friendship in the midst of a great deal of false bonhomie, and it was a fine story. The humanity of the man was put forward. People need to see this. There is so much slashing and trashing in public discourse that bears no relationship to reality, it’s all special effects and puppetry.

Say what you will about social media, Facebook is where we go to see video clips of my twin grandnieces Ivy and Katherine scootching around on a blanket on the floor of Hieu and Jon’s apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, two tiny girls who will see the 21st century that I will miss out on, but I need to offer them some family history, since their last name is Keillor too. I could tell them about my grandma Dora Powell and her twin sister, Della, who learned Morse code as children so they could give each other answers to questions on tests. After they grew up, they became railroad telegraphers, under the name D. Powell, sharing one uniform, working morning and evening shifts, and then Dora taught in a country school and boarded with a farmer, James Keillor and his widowed sister Mary, across the road. She could see he was a well-read man who loved history and poetry, and one day he crossed the road to school and proposed marriage and, as she said, she “walked away but not so fast that he couldn’t catch me,” and they kissed and he hitched the horses to the carriage and drove to town and found a man to marry them, and that’s where we come from. They fell in love through dinner-table conversation.

My parents, John and Grace, fell in love in 1931, a farmboy and a city girl, and he courted her by singing hymns with the word “grace” in them. They were in love for five years, unable to marry, no money, needed at home, and one day, driving a double team of horses to haul manure to spread on a relative’s field, coming down a steep hill, the horses bolted and John couldn’t hold them and they galloped wildly home and the wagon crashed in a ditch and he was thrown clear, and after he chased down the horses, he borrowed a car and drove to the city and married Grace. Lying in the ditch, his neck not broken, he felt God’s grace shining on him and against the opposition of both families, the two lovers claimed each other without hesitation. We are soft-spoken stoics, modest to a fault, but capable of deep feeling. We love you girls in Vietnam both dearly.

What are fathers for? Anybody's guess

I took my love to dinner last Sunday and told her what an excellent mother she is and it’s absolutely true, I observed her in action all those years, driving our child to appointments, reading to her, rocking her to sleep, listening to her anxieties, attending numerous meetings with teachers, but then the question of my fatherhood arises and I am pleading the Fifth, so no questions, please, I’m well aware of my inadequacies.

I’m not proud, but after my first cup of coffee, when I sit down at the laptop, my self-esteem problems go away. This is the beauty of writing, it takes the mind off one’s failures, failure is simply valuable material for comedy, and thanks to my long-standing habit of never reading my own books, I am perpetually hopeful. When I sit down to write, I am 27 again. Everything is possible.

I made a living in radio and writing fiction, neither of which demand strong character. And now I’m embarked on a new career as an octogenarian stand-up and when I say to the audience: “There was an old man of Bay Ridge who cried out, ‘Sonuvabitch! I got up in the night and on came the light and I find I have peed in the fridge’” and the audience laughs aloud, even the Lutherans, I’m completely unselfconscious. I got the laugh and that’s more than enough, it doesn’t matter that I wear this face of failed fatherhood. Maybe the f.o.f.f. is an asset in comedy.

Vanity is useless for a man my age, like walking around with a bowling ball. Set it down. Get over yourself. A child who has an excellent mother is going to be okay, the father can go write novels. My dad was a good man but he had six kids and I cannot recall a single time when he sat down and had an earnest conversation with me, he was busy working two jobs and tending his garden. So I found surrogate fathers such as Uncle Don and Mr. Faust my history teacher and Bob Lindsay who taught journalism and Irv Letofsky at the paper where I worked and my editor Roger Angell, and that is a great wealth of fatherliness, one really can’t ask for more.

A few town mothers in my hometown were responsible for the cultural life, whatever there was, and then the town fathers destroyed all the magnificent 19th-century buildings, the Carnegie library, the county courthouse, several fine churches, some downtown business blocks, and replaced them with generic boxes. Our great-grandfathers had sought to ennoble the commoners and our fathers trashed the place, and now it’s a hollow shell in the suburban sprawl. You could drive through it and never notice it’s there. So I never go back.

Some things you need to do for yourself, no father can help. I quit a three-pack-daily smoking addiction one day and it disappeared in about a week. I discarded alcohol on my own. I was afraid of being a hopeless alkie, someone who can’t quit booze, so I quit rather than be hopeless. I didn’t want to go to AA and hear sad stories and have to tell my own, so I skipped ahead to sobriety.

When COVID appeared, my love and I went into semi-isolation and the clock became irrelevant, and after decades of hecticity, COVID gave us the simple peasant life of couplehood in our thatched hut of a New York apartment. I was a failed father but I aim to be a good husband. The woman deserves no less. I even wrote her a poem.

M is for her double gin martini.
O is for the onyx diamond pin.
T is for the tiny black bikini.
H is for her handbag, leopardskin.
E is for the emeralds on her finger.
R is for her brand-new red Ferrari.
I’m her lover, writer, passenger, and singer,
And for my failures I am truly sorry.

Father’s Day is sometime in June, I forget when, because we’ve never observed it. Compared to pregnancy and childbirth, the donation of sperm is incidental. She heard the cry from the crib and went up and rocked the child to sleep and I heard the siren call of notoriety and hit the road and wrote on planes and in hotel rooms and walked onstage and did monologues and loved the whole long trek and was it worth it? The jury is still deliberating. But when the woman walks into the room and puts her hands on the man’s shoulders, it’s a beautiful day already.

 

Nobody asked, but I'll tell you anyway 

I come from Minnesota, the modest K-shaped state with the bump on top, sitting on the front line of defense against Canada, predominantly white Protestant but trying not to be too obvious about it, maybe grow a beard and eat oysters on the half shell and read poetry to raise questions in people’s minds. Sometimes we’re called the North Star State, sometimes the Gopher State, but really we’re the Recovery State, where Hazelden was born and various programs for curing chem-dep and other addictions. AA is big. There are thousands of big rooms full of folding chairs where people hear accusatory talks and then break up into discussion groups.

Bob Dylan was from here but he loved Woody Guthrie, the itinerant life, the train whistle in the night, surrealist poetry, none of which are popular here, and we have no idea where he is now. Some say he has a big farm near Moose Lake but who cares? Prince was a greater musician but came to a tragic end, there being no good recovery program for addicts so rich and famous. Fitzgerald is our one great writer in the American Pantheon and he was good but no Hemingway.

We are a producer of losing presidential candidates, McCarthy and Humphrey in 1968, Mondale in 1984, and Harold Stassen who unsuccessfully sought the presidency nine times, surely an all-time record. When you are Right and you know it, there is no shame in losing, quite the contrary, and Minnesota is tied with Utah and Vermont as Most Righteous State. Two years ago, when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop, thousands of righteous Minnesotans rioted for days. Cops had killed Black men before but this death was caught on video on a cellphone so it was harder to ignore and thousands of outraged whites went out and burned down their neighborhoods and young Democrats came up with the line “Defund the police,” which will be a millstone around the necks of liberal politicians for years to come and assist a right-wing minority in maintaining power.

Minnesota has had its visionaries, like the Mayo brothers who created a medical clinic organized like a farmers’ co-op, but the Scandinavian Lutheran culture of Good Enough did not encourage breakthrough advances. What do you need a laptop computer for, darling — you already have an Underwood typewriter. And we have a phone in the kitchen — why do you need to carry one in your pocket?

And so we have a serious shortage of billionaires. There’s some old flour and grain money around, a lumber baron or two, and Scotch tape is still selling well, but we lack the oligarchs who might donate a couple billion to the U of M for a Climate Institute or establish a first-class psychiatric hospital. So we make do. It could be worse, as we say. We lie dying and you ask how we feel and we say, “I’ve felt better.” No big deal.

Minnesota is my home forever. The Keillors came in 1880 and spawned me in 1942, a squinty country kid riding his bike to the downtown library, skipping his swim lesson at the YMCA to sit and read books and then lying to my mother that I was learning to float. I’ll never be a New Yorker but I live there because it gives me the same wonderment I felt riding my bike up Hennepin Avenue in 1955. I take the B train to the public library and sit among young Asian college kids, none of whom know me from a bale of hay, and in their midst I feel young and ambitious again. I sit down with a page of writing and feel it might turn into something sort of marvelous.

Awards mean everything in the writing biz and if you win a big one, Pulitzer or National Book, you’ll wear it on your sleeve forever after, it will precede your name in every review, but I’m a Midwesterner, suspicious of medals and titles. I only care what my readers think. I only want to be known by my own. When I do readings, I decline an introduction, I just go out and talk and try to make sense.

When I die, my ashes will come back to the little cemetery north of Anoka, where the other Keillors are, and if a kid walks into the Anoka Library and asks for a book of mine, I hope the librarian gives him Boom Town. It’s my best book and I wrote it this year. And now I’m working on two others, but who knows? All I know is that a writer is someone who writes. So off I go. Catch you later.

 

Driving across Indiana today

I come from low-key Minnesotans who like to end a sentence with then or now — “So what are you up to then?” — which is intended to soften the question and avoid an accusatory tone and if you said, “Oh, just waiting to see what turns up,” they might say, “Sounds good then,” so when I heard that the Supremes plan to toss out Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision in Roe v. Wade, I thought, “So what kind of a deal is that then, for crying out loud,” which is my people’s idea of profanity but doesn’t call down fire and brimstone then.

He was a low-key Minnesota Republican who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of St. Paul and got scholarshipped to Harvard and returned to Minnesota to be resident counsel at the Mayo Clinic, and the heart of Roe v. Wade is the reluctance to interfere in a woman’s intimate life and dictate the answer to an agonizing question, which reflects a Midwestern temperament. We would interfere with a big kid bullying a little kid, or a child torturing an animal, or some other act of cruelty we witness, but the Mississippi law the Supremes are prepared to uphold is a radical invasion by the state of a woman’s life. That’s what sort of deal it is.

The Supremes at the heart of the majority are only fulfilling the purpose for which they were nominated by Mr. Trump, so the shock and alarm registered in the press is a little surprising. This is a dog bite that could’ve been foreseen long ago. And perhaps the court is prepared to do battle along other fronts in the culture wars that the rest of us are a little weary of. Maybe there’ll be dicta on gender, sexuality, the right of parents to censor schools, the right of politicians to not be contradicted, the right of Supreme Court nominees to misrepresent their views to the U.S. Senate.

Hundreds of acres of printed pages will be written about all of this but driving today across Indiana to the elegant town of Wabash, I feel that the country isn’t changed much by the Kulturkampf. This is a handsome town of ten thousand on the Wabash River and the visitor sees immediately that historic preservation is a spiritual value here. There’s an 1880 Presbyterian church, a 1920 J.C. Penney’s, an 1865 Disciples of Christ, a magnificent 1878 county courthouse with a bell tower that dominates. Perhaps some county commissioners have imagined replacing it with a Costco-style courthouse but they haven’t succeeded. There are two historic districts, one residential, one downtown, where students of architecture can walk by examples of classical architecture, where you could shoot a movie set in 1940. I’m staying in a 1906 hotel across from the Eagles Theatre of the same era. Clearly, generations of Wabashites have loved this town. My hometown destroyed all its most beautiful buildings and became dismal and decrepit. Wabash is pretty fabulous.

Maybe a huge mall will be built outside town but it’s hard to imagine Wabash giving up magnificence for modular. I walk around this town and sense my own conservatism. This is a town where people keep their houses nice and go next door to visit. These are my people. Tonight when I perform at the Eagles Theatre, I’ll ask the audience to sing “America” and they’ll know the words and sing it in harmony, and also “It Is Well With My Soul” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” I could live here happily.

My grandpa Denham left Glasgow in 1905 with his wife, Marian, and kiddies and moved to south Minneapolis and never looked back. His stepmother disapproved of him because Marian was pregnant when Grandpa married her. Mormons fled Illinois for Utah to escape persecution. Trans people may leave Kansas for New York or San Francisco to find people more like themselves. I live in New York because I love anonymity. If I lived here in Wabash, among my own people whom I love, I’d feel people staring at me, thinking, “Divorced. Twice. Left the Brethren. Used to drink a lot. And he wrote that stupid column about Roe v. Wade.” I walk around in New York, unself-conscious, enjoying odd accents, Asian faces, Orthodox schoolboys, confused tourists. Plenty of people will leave Mississippi and Texas to be free of the authoritarianism. The Alito court can have Mississippi and Texas and it can ban same-sex marriage and require teachers to teach from pre-1950 textbooks, but New York will still be New York, I’ll enjoy my anonymity, and when, as happened recently, a woman cashier says, “How are you, my dear?” it will touch my heart.

 

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

June 8, 2022

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Tower Theatre, Bend OR

Bend, OR

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Tower Theatre in Bend, OR for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

June 10, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Bankhead Theater, Livermore, CA

Livermore, CA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Bankhead Theater in Livermore, CA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

July 10, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others.

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Nashville, IN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fish Creek, Wisconsin for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

August 20, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Friends (Fred Newman, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Richard Kriehn & Dan Magraw) bring their show to Big Top Chautauqua for a performance of night of laughter, song and The News from Lake Wobegon.

September 16, 2022

Friday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

Radio

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 19, 2022

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” — Bertrand Russell, philosopher, born on this day in 1872.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 18, 2022

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” — Bertrand Russell, philosopher, born on this day in 1872.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Today would have been the 83rd birthday of Gary Paulsen, author of “Hatchet,” who died in October of last year.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 16, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 16, 2022

It’s the birthday of writer, historian, and radioman Studs Terkel (1912), whose career was built out of in-depth personal interviews.

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: May 21, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: May 21, 2005

Our 2005 classic features guests: The Wailin’ Jennys; from the Shetland Islands, Ale Moller and Aly Bain.; and from right here at home: the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band and our Royal Academy of Radio Acting.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 15, 2022

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Words written by the man behind “The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, born this day in 1856.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 14, 2022

America’s first space station Skylab was launched on this date in 1973. Occupied for only 8 months, it was the first platform for science in space.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 13, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 13, 2022

Author Daphne du Maurier was born on this day in London (1907). Her blockbuster novel “Rebecca” (1938) was turned into a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 12, 2022

Today is the birthday of novelist and poet Rosellen Brown, born in 1939. Her novels include “Tender Mercies” and most recently “Half a Heart”.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 11, 2022

It’s the anniversary of the printing of the first known book, the Diamond Sutra. In the year 868, Wang Chieh printed a Buddhist scripture on a 16-foot scroll using wood blocks.

Read More
Writing

If you want a story, sit down and I’ll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

Read More

What are fathers for? Anybody’s guess

I took my love to dinner last Sunday and told her what an excellent mother she is and it’s absolutely true, I observed her in action all those years, driving our child to appointments, reading to her, rocking her to sleep, listening to her anxieties, attending numerous meetings with teachers, but then the question of my fatherhood arises and I am pleading the Fifth, so no questions, please, I’m well aware of my inadequacies.

I’m not proud, but after my first cup of coffee, when I sit down at the laptop, my self-esteem problems go away. This is the beauty of writing, it takes the mind off one’s failures, failure is simply valuable material for comedy, and thanks to my long-standing habit of never reading my own books, I am perpetually hopeful. When I sit down to write, I am 27 again. Everything is possible.

Read More

Nobody asked, but I’ll tell you anyway

I come from Minnesota, the modest K-shaped state with the bump on top, sitting on the front line of defense against Canada, predominantly white Protestant but trying not to be too obvious about it, maybe grow a beard and eat oysters on the half shell and read poetry to raise questions in people’s minds. Sometimes we’re called the North Star State, sometimes the Gopher State, but really we’re the Recovery State, where Hazelden was born and various programs for curing chem-dep and other addictions. AA is big. There are thousands of big rooms full of folding chairs where people hear accusatory talks and then break up into discussion groups.

Bob Dylan was from here but he loved Woody Guthrie, the itinerant life, the train whistle in the night, surrealist poetry, none of which are popular here, and we have no idea where he is now. Some say he has a big farm near Moose Lake but who cares? Prince was a greater musician but came to a tragic end, there being no good recovery program for addicts so rich and famous. Fitzgerald is our one great writer in the American Pantheon and he was good but no Hemingway.

Read More

Driving across Indiana today

I come from low-key Minnesotans who like to end a sentence with then or now — “So what are you up to then?” — which is intended to soften the question and avoid an accusatory tone and if you said, “Oh, just waiting to see what turns up,” they might say, “Sounds good then,” so when I heard that the Supremes plan to toss out Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision in Roe v. Wade, I thought, “So what kind of a deal is that then, for crying out loud,” which is my people’s idea of profanity but doesn’t call down fire and brimstone then.

He was a low-key Minnesota Republican who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of St. Paul and got scholarshipped to Harvard and returned to Minnesota to be resident counsel at the Mayo Clinic, and the heart of Roe v. Wade is the reluctance to interfere in a woman’s intimate life and dictate the answer to an agonizing question, which reflects a Midwestern temperament. We would interfere with a big kid bullying a little kid, or a child torturing an animal, or some other act of cruelty we witness, but the Mississippi law the Supremes are prepared to uphold is a radical invasion by the state of a woman’s life. That’s what sort of deal it is.

Read More

Kindness: you look and you’ll see it.

I’ve been a rhymer ever since I was twelve and read the limerick about the young girl of Madras who had a remarkable ass and so when I read about a trans legislator in Kansas, it started my engine, but she turns out to be a nice woman named Stephanie Byers (choirs, lyres) who is only advocating kindness for her kind, no big deal in my book, and I looked up the girl from Madras. It’s one of the only limericks that accuses the reader of unseemly thoughts — her ass is “not soft, round, and pink as you probably think, but the kind with long ears that eats grass,” and I loved this as a kid, having grown up evangelical and knowing something about righteous fever.

I’ve gone through my own fevers back in my youth, I marched, I manifestoed, and I am still capable of high dudgeon, but I’ve come to have a higher regard for kindness than righteousness, especially the sort that burns other people at the stake, which we see more of these days.

Read More

One more word about Twitter, then I’ll shut up

I once knew a librarian who at age 34 fell in love with a poet she met in a bar who, though sober, announced that he adored her. For years she’d only dated men who were looking for a sympathetic sister, but this fellow lusted after her and suddenly she was shopping for a bigger bed and learning to samba. The problem was that his poems were bleak and not ingeniously bleak but dull bleak, disconnected dark images of dread and dismay. He wrote one for her and she said, “It’s nice,” and he said, “I can tell you don’t like it,” and she said, “It’s sort of dark,” and he ran out the door (he was living with her) and she hasn’t heard from him since.

It can be dangerous to tell the truth. Why couldn’t she have said, “I love it, it’s one of your best”? His poems weren’t hurting anybody. Polar bears weren’t dying from them, they weren’t poisoning the rivers. Let the man be a bad poet and eventually he’ll find his way into marketing or lawn mowing or some other gainful employment.

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What macaroni and cheese means to me

Men my age are not riding high these days compared to back in the Renaissance or the 19th century so I am taking a back seat and not getting fussed up. I appreciate new stuff like YouTube and the Unsubscribe option and the peanut butter latte, but I don’t know who famous people are anymore — Abe Lincoln, Al Kaline, A.J. Liebling are on my A-list but I wouldn’t know Adele if she walked up and offered me her autograph. I’m out of it. So I keep my mouth shut. I’ve listened to people discussing their loyalty to particular coffees from specific regions of Kenya or Nicaragua and I don’t weigh in on this. I’d be okay with Maxwell House Instant. Coffee is coffee. Debating it is like arguing about doormats. You walk in, you wipe your feet, it’s not a transformative experience. I feel the same way about gender: it’s your beeswax, not mine. Be who you want to be but don’t expect me to call you them or it or us.

I drink coffee because it is a warm liquid and I accept the myth that it enlivens the brain though probably hot water from the tap would serve as well. My coffee habit is a cultural choice: I don’t want to be part of the tea crowd, it’d mean I’d have to have a ponytail and wear linen clothing and have a cockadoodle named Josephine. I drink coffee and have short hair and jeans with a hole in the knee.

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The country’s problems solved in 800 words

I was in Minnesota for a while in April but weather systems can’t read a calendar and they were delivering more of November, which is satisfying to us Minnesotans. We are great complainers. God made children short so they wouldn’t have far to fall and God put us in Minnesota because joyfulness is absolutely not our thing, Easter is a holiday we dread, the enforced jubilation, the trumpets in the choir loft, and when you wake up Easter morning and a cold rain is falling it’s very very satisfying.

I went to Minnesota alone and it was interesting discover that without my wife, I don’t know where things are or how to get the washer to work when it stops in mid-cycle and won’t resume. I can’t make sense of the instruction manual so I call her back in New York and she tells me to press START and hold it in and I do and the washer resumes. It’s downright embarrassing — my dad did his own auto repair and carpentry and I can’t operate an automatic washer. Thank goodness I still have a sense of shame.

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Enough about that, let’s talk about happiness

You come to a point in life when the days of wild uninhibited sex seem to be behind you, either because she is no longer moved by your singing, “Oh my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch,” or the flaming torches on the bedposts seem hazardous and you put the theatrics aside and discover that holding her close and stroking her arm are just as wonderful, perhaps even more so.

Small things can make me so happy. I’ve recently discovered this. I once had a book that was No. 1 on the Times best-seller list and of course I’d love to have another, but meanwhile I made myself tremendously happy the other day by switching from a $110 room in an old run-down hotel to a $170 room in a new hotel. I was feeling low because I’d been away from my sweetie for two weeks and was on the road and the $110 room was small, not big enough to swing a cat, and the shower was tricky and the desk chair wouldn’t raise so I was typing at an unnatural angle and there was no room service so I switched to a hotel two blocks away that was spacious and light and the shower and desk chair worked and a cheerful woman brought me a BLT and coffee, and I felt absolutely wonderful. I believe the word would be “exalted.” Sixty dollars is not too much to pay for exaltation in my book.

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Lying on my side in dim light, watching

I was at Mayo last week where, after years of providing urine specimens and taking a deep breath and holding it and various medical adventures, I feel like an old alum and the lab tests show that through no fault of my own I am in fairly good shape, walking upright and making sense fantabuli octopi magnanimous anthropods or not making sense if I choose.

It’s a friendly caring place where they hand you an iPad in the waiting room so you can answer questions Minnesotans would be embarrassed to ask anyone, such as “Are you being abused by your spouse or partner?” or “Are you unable to afford food or housing?” A simple way for people with serious trouble to raise a red flag.

One question they leave out is, “Have you taken up all of the bad habits you felt were required of a serious American author?” which applies in my case.

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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. 

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