Aspen Institute – Limericks

Garrison was invited to the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Words Summer Soirée, on the premise that he would talk about storytelling. Instead, he decided to tell some limericks. From June 24, 2015.

 

Watch the video here.

 

 

CHEERFULNESS by Garrison Keillor!

Garrison Keillor's newest book, CHEERFULNESS, now available.

Drawing on personal anecdotes from his young adulthood into his eighties, Keillor sheds light on the immense good that can come from a deliberate work ethic and a buoyant demeanor. “Adopting cheerfulness as a strategy does not mean closing your eyes to evil,” he tells us; “it means resisting our drift toward compulsive dread and despond.” Funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and whimsical, this is a book that will inspire you to choose cheerfulness in your daily life.

1. CHEERFULNESS

It’s a great American virtue, the essence of who we are when we’re cooking with gas: enthusiasm, high spirits, rise and shine, qwitcher bellyaching, wake up and die right, pick up your feet, step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Smile, dammit. Dance like you mean it and give it some pizzazz, clap on the backbeat. Do your best and forget the rest, da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, hang by your thumbs and write when you get work, whoopitiyiyo git along little cowboys—and I am an American, I don’t eat my cheeseburger in a croissant, don’t look for a church that serves a French wine and a sourdough wafer for Communion, don’t use words like dodgy, bonkers, knackered, or chuffed. When my team scores, I don’t shout, Très bien!! I don’t indulge in dread and dismay. Yes, I can make a list of evils and perils and injustices in the world, but I believe in a positive attitude and I know that one can do only so much and one should do that much and do it cheerfully. Dread is communicable: healthy rats fed fecal matter from depressed humans demonstrated depressive behavior, including anhedonia and anxiety—crap is bad for the brain. Nothing good comes from this. Despair is surrender. Put your shoulder to the wheel. And wash your hands.

We live in an Age of Gloom, or so I read, and some people blame electronics, but I love my cellphone and laptop, and others blame the decline of Protestantism, but I grew up fundamentalist so I don’t, and others blame bad food. Too much grease and when there’s a potluck supper, busy people tend to stop at Walmart or a SuperAmerica station and pick up a potato salad that was manufactured a month ago and shipped in tanker trucks and it’s depressing compared to Grandma’s, which she devoted an hour to making fresh from chopped celery, chives, green onions, homemade mayonnaise, mustard, dill, and paprika. You ate it and knew that Grandma cared about you. The great potato salad creators are passing from the scene, replaced by numbskulls so busy online they’re willing to bring garbage to the communal table.

I take no position on that, since I like a Big Mac as well as anybody and I’ve bought food in plastic containers from refrigerated units at gas stations and never looked at the expiration date. And I am a cheerful man...

Read the first Chapter>>>

Purchase Cheerfulness Softcover >>>

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BOB DOUGLAS (click image for audio tribute)

Bob Douglas (April 22, 1948 - December 1, 2022)

SONG LIST:
Irish Fiddle Tunes
Is It Time
Canaan's Land
Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures
There's No Hiding Place Down Here
Anchored in Love

Bob Douglas was cheerful, the mandolinist in the Powdermilk Biscuit Band in the early days of A Prairie Home Companion, who loved gospel songs, having grown up with them, even “It’s G-L-O-R-Y to Know That I’m S-A-V-E-D,” and he dove into bluegrass and swing tunes and played a driving backbeat on the fiddle standards, a dedicated devotee and serious folkie, but audiences get restless and earnestness only goes so far, and Bob’s ace card was playing spoons. He kept them in his back pocket, ordinary kitchen spoons. No silver spoons, the tone was clanky. He held two spoons back to back an inch apart in his right hand, did elaborate rolls against the spread fingers of his left hand, and the rickety-tickety-bop glittery-flibbertigibbet shave-and-a-haircut drove the crowd wild. It never failed.

He worked hard to master a complicated instrument, the mandolin, but it was the parlor trick of spoonerism that blew them away—there’s a lesson in humility here.

Bob wasn’t eager to play the spoons, he was a mandolinist, not a clown, but he did it when it was needed and did it with a beautiful big smile, syncopating around, percussing hand-to-knee and off his forehead, bopping on the guitarist’s shoulder, rapping on the knees of a kid in the front row, then the kid’s father, he made solemn hippies whoop like third graders. Sometimes he’d switch to wooden spoons for the clackety tone. It was cheerfulness at work.

Garrison Keillor from Cheerfulness

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O Frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!

The debt limit deal takes an enormous load off my mind, weeks of worrying about what we’d do when the economy crashed and we lose everything and live on the street near a soup kitchen, but now apparently the ship will not sink, and as I understand the deal, the Republicans will raise the debt limit if the Ten Commandments are inscribed on every dollar bill, Disney will make no movies that portray fairies, the southern border will be sealed tight except for food deliveries and migrant farmworkers, all nouns will have the gender of the person speaking, and the word “gay” will simply go away.

I’m willing to give them that. I’m a lib they don’t own. There are other words for “gay” such as “frisky,” “vivacious,” “spiffy,” and “effervescent.” I’ll bet Governor DeSantis has had his effervescent days when he wore bright colors and said frolicsome things, though this has not been evident so far in his campaign for the White House. As for the Current Leading Candidate for the Republican nomination, gaiety seems quite alien. Fulmination is his style. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of him petting a dog or hugging a small child or even holding hands with his current wife. So sad, but of course that’s his business, not mine.

Some libs wanted the White House to be renamed the Big House but I was not one of them. I simply feel that the nation should make good on its debts and if the Repubs want to tinker with American culture, good luck. It’s like trying to replace Tina Turner with Ted Turner: it ain’t gonna work, buddy. Making war against the culture is punching the air. We are a curious, lively, rambunctious people. Freedom has a big effect on people and it’s hard to squelch it, you pound on the bubbles and they pop up elsewhere.

I am not putting down the Repubs; some of my best friends, etc. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of reason, certainly not an octagon or Oregon. Utter stupidity has been a recurrent fact in my life and now and then I find myself reviewing the Five Dumbest Things I’ve Done, which is brutal punishment but it does highlight the Five Luckiest, which take me into the realm of gratitude.

I was married twice before to women who were near total strangers, back when I imagined romance to be a mystery, the more mysterious the better, and in 1987 I did the No. 1 Dumbest when I gave up a radio show I dearly loved in order to make a woman happy — a woman who had married me imagining it would make her happy and it didn’t, of course, and I knew it was a mistake the night I announced my departure on the radio, and I sat in the kitchen with a friend and he said, “I think you should change your mind. You’d make a lot of people happy.” I didn’t do it. That was No. 2.

I’ve lost money on every real estate transaction I’ve done: if I told you the whole story you’d introduce legislation to put me under guardianship. I’ve thrown fistfuls of money into the wind but you can hire smart people to keep you away from the cliff. I am illiterate about the Christian faith that I subscribe to but I feel that God forgives this. Any third grader knows more about the natural world than I do and yet some very smart people are somewhat fond of me.

No, I’m referring to Dumbness in its pure form, when you walk with complete confidence into a brick wall and you don’t learn from this that bricks are solid, solider than flesh.

But stupidity has given me sympathy for other knuckleheads and also admiration for the beautiful competence of American medicine, which has extended my life dramatically, making it possible for me to beat myself up for my mistakes and not just take up space in a cemetery. And eventually it leads to this beautiful revelation: I will never be so dumb again. I’m too old and I adore the woman I married who is also my best-informed critic. This is an outcome devoutly to be wished for.

In the extra time that medical ingenuity has granted me, I intend to walk carefully, mind my manners, do my work, embrace friendship, sleep with my beloved critic, and put aside enmity and grudges and biases. Eighty is too old to be angry. Even seventy is.

 

Thou shalt not be dumber than dirt

The bill in the Texas legislature to require public schools to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom means that teachers may need to explain to small children what “adultery” means and also “take the Lord’s name in vain” but the real problem is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. A great many public schools send athletic teams to compete in weekend tournaments that make it hard for players to make it home for the Sabbath, especially if they’re Jewish. In Texas, a conflict between football and religious faith is not going to turn out well for religion. And taking the Lord’s name in vain is inextricably intertwined with sports. Golf, especially.

I grew up among devout Christians who did not say “gosh” or “darn it” because they took euphemisms seriously. My mother would say, “Oh fudge” but more likely, “Oh for pity’s sake.” I’m an old man and cursing still feels unnatural to me; I’ll bet plenty of Texas legislators who voted for the T.C. bill curse up a storm.

The tablets that God handed down to Moses did not constitute Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. I don’t oppose posting the Ten Commandments, I only propose that they be taken seriously. And it’s hard to see how allowing people to shop on Sunday and order alcohol in restaurants is keeping the Sabbath holy. I am just saying it because it’s true.

I take Scripture seriously and so I eat beef as it tells us we can in Leviticus, and I also eat salads but not Caesar salads because he was a pagan emperor, but I admit to giving in to wrath, which goes against Scripture. I do it again and again. Like you, I am a bundle of contradictions.

Like many of my fellow Episcopalians, I maintain a progressive enlightened exterior while guarding my simple peasant biases such as my loathing of the use of fancy words like “ubiquitous” in simple conversation, it makes me want to give them a knuckle sandwich if it weren’t for the fact that I’m an author and must protect my hands. Or people who kill conversation by delivering extensive synopses of an article about political polarization that they’ve read recently — POW, right in the kisser.

I absolutely despise the little quiz that pops up on the screen when I finish a transaction online — “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your experience ordering from Goodwill? Have you been satisfied with the used clothing you’ve purchased? How likely are you to recommend Goodwill to your friends?” — this sort of thing makes me want to throw my laptop out the window even if it might mean hitting an e-biker on the noggin and he hits the pavement and is run over by a guy on an e-scooter. But the T.C. forbid murder so I simply click Delete and move on. Scripture is very much in favor of deletion; deletion is crucial in matters of faith. Love and kindness are fundamental and the acquisition of wealth and power are not.

The verse I would paint on the walls of the Texas legislature is “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” A good verse for me and you too. To put it another way, “We’re too old to be this stupid.”

I was having lunch not long ago with two guys I’ve known since grade school and one said, “I hope I haven’t offended you” and the other said, “We’re too old to take offense, we’re eighty for gosh sakes.” It’s true: we’ve reached the age of gratitude at last, no more time for anger.

I believe that in 2024 the American electorate will start to wise up to the sort of performance-art politics of the T.C. sort and decide that public servants should serve the public good by dealing with actual problems.

California, Nevada, and Arizona did not deal with the Colorado River emergency by painting a verse on the walls of the Grand Canyon, “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” Nor did they curse the problem. They agreed on a (temporary) solution.

And if, on a scale of one to three, you give this column a two, I’m okay with that. Let’s go be wise and forgive Texas for its doggone stupidity and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. You kids stop hitting each other or I am going to send you to your rooms and I mean it.

Manhattan man living in the past

I was a big shot at one time, which I knew because when I went to work at the office, twelve people suddenly got very busy. I had a popular radio show and I pulled the plug on it not wanting to become a living legend, a last connection to broadcasting’s past when music came on big black vinyl discs and everyone had an ashtray on their desk.

I left Minnesota because there were so many middle-aged people there who loathed the sight of me because they’d been forced by their parents to listen to my show on long car trips and I was afraid one of them might throttle me so I moved to Manhattan where I felt very safe. Now my office is my kitchen and it’s just me and the coffeemaker and the toaster, and eventually my sweetie walks in and says, “What are you doing up so early?”

Doing the same thing I did when I was important. I do a sort of ventriloquism in which I talk in the voice of old relatives who are all dead, but the voice is in my head, and as long as I keep using it, I keep them alive. I also stay sane. Twitter is not part of my world, I am not an influencer, I used to drive under the influence but don’t anymore.

I interrupted writing for a while today to have a Zoom meeting about estate planning with a couple lawyers in Minneapolis and for a discussion centered on my own demise it was a lot of fun. We laughed a lot.

They mentioned “legacy” and I laughed. What legacy? There’s no such thing. Scripture promises resurrection but it isn’t specific about the form we’ll take, whether vegetable, mineral, gas, or spirit, meanwhile here I am on a sunny day in New York, sitting at a café on Columbus Avenue and watching the passing humanity, the great variety of gaits, brisk and propulsive, ambling, toddling, sidewalk surfing, window shopping, touristy uncertainty, geezerly gimpiness, and the aimless shuffle of people like me whose heads are full of irrelevancies.

What’s on my mind is family history, the seven children of James Keillor and Dora Powell, and in all of Manhattan there’s not a single soul who has the slightest interest, nor should there be. Heredity, the streaks of tragedy, the guarded secrets, a family of good gardeners and Bible believers, sworn to modesty, dry humor, intensely loyal.

My dad once drove up to Anoka to see his brother Lawrence who was president of the First National Bank. I asked him if he had an appointment. He said, “I don’t need an appointment, he’s my brother.” And when he got to the bank, Lawrence put everything aside and they sat down and talked. That was my family in a nutshell.

James was not a good farmer. He’d go out cutting hay, holding the reins in his right hand and a book in his left. He was of another world. Dora was a schoolteacher and demanded that we make the grade. I’m descended from them, careless and ambitious at the same time. I sit in the café eating salad and remember going to Lawrence’s where he and Dad and Eleanor sat around the piano and sang “It Is Well with My Soul” — “in our ancient ruined voices,” Eleanor said, and that was the end, within a few years they were all gone.

I’ve been telling stories all my adult life and this is one that mystifies me: where did we come from. My shelves are packed with books I’m no longer interested in but I had a dream last night in which I visited James and Dora on their farm after the house burned down and saw their seven kids and little Eleanor had a terrible fever and the family sat praying for her — a fleeting dream but I would give anything to revisit it. I feel the same way about the picture of my mother, 17, with sister Elsie and friend Dorothy, three girls in summer dresses standing holding their bikes by Lake Nokomis in 1932, so happy — I want to ask her, “Do you realize you’re going to have six kids and not much money and they’ll cause you a lot of problems? Is this really what you want? I’m a writer, I can send you to Hollywood. You’re very charming, very funny. What he loves about you, millions of others would love too. What do you say, kid?” And she gets on her bike and wheels away.

Spring once more, what a surprise

I hear from back home that the wretched winter has concluded and the trees blossom and people are allowing themselves to think about resuming normal life though of course Minnesotans know that winter, like COVID, can return at any time and as it says in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what shall be. One generation comes as another departs. We shovel the walk and the wind blows the neighbor’s unshoveled snow over us, making our labor meaningless. It is what it is.” It’s not a sunshiny view of life but it serves us well, the stoical It Could Be Worse perspective. Yes, we’re flabby, uncool, discouraged, not flossing regularly, our mental acuity is somewhat diminished from when we were in the eighth grade, we can’t remember passwords, we need a paring knife to try to pry NyQuil out of its tight plastic pods, but at least wild bears are not rampaging across Minneapolis, snarfling up small children. The Mississippi still flows south. We have not been invaded by Wisconsin. The yellow goldfinches come to the feeder. The ducks swim in the pond. The frogs are croaking at night. It stays light later and later. Nobody I know has been caught paying hush money to a porn star. Life is good. Sex is less frequent than when we were young and couldn’t keep our clothes on for more than an hour; now we make love only on birthdays and anniversaries if there is a full moon and the Twins are ahead in the eighth inning, but it’s all the more pleasurable for being rare. It’s like Paris that way: if you lived there you’d just be complaining incessantly the way the French do, but a biennial visit can be marvelous. Fishing season opens, which gives men a chance to eat bad food, go without bathing, pee outdoors, and sit in a boat for hours and be monosyllabic, but misery makes for good company as I recall from back when I went to political fundraisers. I’m a Democrat and at our events you wind up standing in a bunch of people talking about economic injustice or declining test scores in secondary ed. Not what I’d call a fun evening. Trump’s success is simple: entertainment. He knows his crowd and tells them what they want to hear: the system is rigged against them and it’s time to overthrow the government. He says stuff you never heard in high school civics class and it’s thrilling. They get to whoop and yell for revolution, knowing this is theater, only intended to terrify Yalies and Times columnists and the book club ladies. I went to a Trump rally in New Jersey last week. I wore a fake moustache and dark glasses. I loved it. He came out collecting donations — for a hundred bucks you get a degree from Trump University and a round trip on Trump Air. He was raking it in. He yelled, “You people are dumber than stumps. I may be a mad hatter but you have the brains of a box of hammers. You couldn’t find your way home if you were standing in the driveway. Without me, you’d be hopeless.” And he pulled out a pistol and fired into the crowd and a fat man fell down dead and the crowd cheered. “See what I mean? I knew you liked me,” he said. I never saw a candidate do that before. I read that younger and younger people are now going around with hearing aids and is it any wonder, what with the world clamoring for their attention as they turn up their headphones to shut out the clamor and now baseball, our sacred national pastime, is employing DJs to make rock ’n’ roll racket to engage people who get bored sitting through the outs, waiting for a grand slam. Nonetheless it is spring, the trees blossom, birds sing, some things remain the same. I saw neighbor kids waiting on the corner for a ride Saturday evening, she was very elegant in a ball gown and he wore a tuxedo and was trying to make conversation. I wanted to warn them about vodka, that it can go down very easily and then be painful coming up, but why would they listen to an old man? I hope they like each other. Friendship is a good start for romance, better than the zing of the strings of your heart. And now I miss my sweetie, far off in Minnesota. She’s the butter on my bagel, the syrup on my toasted waffle. I count the days until she returns.
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 22, 2023 (NEW)

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Cary Memorial Hall, Lexington, MA

Lexington, MA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Lexington, MA. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

June 24, 2023 (New date)

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Park Theatre, Jaffrey, NH

Jaffrey, NH

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Jaffrey, NH. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

June 25, 2023 (NEW DATE)

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.

July 5, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

Ramshead Onstage, Annapolis, MD

Annapolis, MD

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Annapolis, MD. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

July 6, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, PA

Sellersville, PA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to Sellersville, PA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon.

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July 8, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Lime Kiln Theater, Lexington, VA

Lexington, VA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, VA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 8:00 PM

buy tickets

August 4, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

The Opera House, Boothbay Harbor, ME

Boothbay Harbor, ME

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Boothbay Harbor, ME. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

August 6, 2023

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Ctr, Old Saybrook, CT

Old Saybrook, CT

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Old Saybrook, CT. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

August 7, 2023

Monday

7:00 p.m.

Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Ctr, Old Saybrook, CT

Old Saybrook, CT (2nd show)

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Old Saybrook, CT. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

buy tickets

August 27, 2023

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Bayfield, WI

Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Friends return to Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield WI. Singalongs, stories, duets, comedy and a hot band. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 1, 2023

On this day in 1974, Henry Jay Heimlich published his “Heimlich Maneuver” in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The article was called “Pop Goes the Café Coronary.” Less than three weeks later, the maneuver was used successfully in a restaurant in Bellevue, Washington. As of 2006, the American Red Cross recommends the “five and five” approach: five sharp blows to the back, followed by five abdominal thrusts if the back blows are not effective.

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On this day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. The monument was first proposed in 1867, but construction didn’t begin until 1914; the cornerstone was set in 1915. Architect Henry Bacon designed it to resemble the Parthenon, believing that a defender of democracy should be memorialized in a building that pays homage to the birthplace of democracy.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 29, 2023

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It’s the birthday of comedian Bob Hope (1903), born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, near London. His family moved to the United States when he was four years old, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1941, he performed his first show for soldiers, a group of airmen stationed in March Field, California. It was the beginning of nearly 60 years of shows at military bases at home and abroad

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A Prairie Home Companion: June 3, 2006

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Our Hollywood Bowl 2006 feature celebrating the release of our movie with guests Meryl Streep, Virginia Madsen, and John C. Reilly; Sally Dworsky, Shelby Lynne, and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 28, 2023

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Today is the birthday of American poet May Swenson, born Anna Thilda “May” Swenson, in Logan, Utah (1913). Swedish was the primary language in her house, and Swenson was an avid reader from a young age, with one of her favorite writers being Edgar Allan Poe. Swenson worked as a stenographer, ghostwriter, secretary, and finally, at a publishing house.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 27, 2023

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Today is the birthday of marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson, born in Springdale, Pennsylvania (1907). She was an English major at the Pennsylvania College for Women, but in her junior year, she took a biology course. President Kennedy read Silent Spring during that summer in 1962 and formed a presidential commission to re-examine the government’s pesticide policy. The commission endorsed Carson’s findings.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 26, 2023

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Today is the birthday of photographer Dorothea Lange, born Dorothea Nutzhorn in Hoboken, New Jersey (1895). She contracted polio when she was seven, and her left leg was noticeably weaker than her right for the rest of her life. During World War II, the War Relocation Authority hired Lange to document the government’s internment of Japanese Americans.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 25, 2023

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Today is the birthday of philosopher, poet, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was born in Boston in 1803, and his father’s unmarried sister, Mary Moody Emerson, was a great influence on him. In his book Nature (1836), Emerson first introduced the concept of Transcendentalism — the idea that spiritual truth could be gained by intuition rather than by established doctrine or text — and he would become a leader of that movement.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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It’s the birthday of Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (1941). He grew up in the declining mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. He started performing in Greenwich Village clubs and coffeehouses, using the name Bob Dylan (he denies that he took his name from Dylan Thomas). He released his first album, Bob Dylan, in 1962. Dylan won a Nobel Prize in literature in 2016.

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Writing

O Frabjous Day! Callooh, Callay!

The debt limit deal takes an enormous load off my mind, weeks of worrying about what we’d do when the economy crashed and we lose everything and live on the street near a soup kitchen, but now apparently the ship will not sink, and as I understand the deal, the Republicans will raise the debt limit if the Ten Commandments are inscribed on every dollar bill, Disney will make no movies that portray fairies, the southern border will be sealed tight except for food deliveries and migrant farmworkers, all nouns will have the gender of the person speaking, and the word “gay” will simply go away.

I’m willing to give them that. I’m a lib they don’t own. There are other words for “gay” such as “frisky,” “vivacious,” “spiffy,” and “effervescent.” I’ll bet Governor DeSantis has had his effervescent days when he wore bright colors and said frolicsome things, though this has not been evident so far in his campaign for the White House. As for the Current Leading Candidate for the Republican nomination, gaiety seems quite alien. Fulmination is his style. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of him petting a dog or hugging a small child or even holding hands with his current wife. So sad, but of course that’s his business, not mine.

Read More

Thou shalt not be dumber than dirt

The bill in the Texas legislature to require public schools to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom means that teachers may need to explain to small children what “adultery” means and also “take the Lord’s name in vain” but the real problem is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. A great many public schools send athletic teams to compete in weekend tournaments that make it hard for players to make it home for the Sabbath, especially if they’re Jewish. In Texas, a conflict between football and religious faith is not going to turn out well for religion. And taking the Lord’s name in vain is inextricably intertwined with sports. Golf, especially.

I grew up among devout Christians who did not say “gosh” or “darn it” because they took euphemisms seriously. My mother would say, “Oh fudge” but more likely, “Oh for pity’s sake.” I’m an old man and cursing still feels unnatural to me; I’ll bet plenty of Texas legislators who voted for the T.C. bill curse up a storm.

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Cheerfulness preview

Read the first chapter of Garrison’s newest book, CHEERFULNESS and find out where to purchase.

Read Chapter One here

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Manhattan man living in the past

I was a big shot at one time, which I knew because when I went to work at the office, twelve people suddenly got very busy. I had a popular radio show and I pulled the plug on it not wanting to become a living legend, a last connection to broadcasting’s past when music came on big black vinyl discs and everyone had an ashtray on their desk.

I left Minnesota because there were so many middle-aged people there who loathed the sight of me because they’d been forced by their parents to listen to my show on long car trips and I was afraid one of them might throttle me so I moved to Manhattan where I felt very safe. Now my office is my kitchen and it’s just me and the coffeemaker and the toaster, and eventually my sweetie walks in and says, “What are you doing up so early?”

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Spring once more, what a surprise

I hear from back home that the wretched winter has concluded and the trees blossom and people are allowing themselves to think about resuming normal life though of course Minnesotans know that winter, like COVID, can return at any time and as it says in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what shall be. One generation comes as another departs. We shovel the walk and the wind blows the neighbor’s unshoveled snow over us, making our labor meaningless. It is what it is.”

It’s not a sunshiny view of life but it serves us well, the stoical It Could Be Worse perspective. Yes, we’re flabby, uncool, discouraged, not flossing regularly, our mental acuity is somewhat diminished from when we were in the eighth grade, we can’t remember passwords, we need a paring knife to try to pry NyQuil out of its tight plastic pods, but at least wild bears are not rampaging across Minneapolis, snarfling up small children. The Mississippi still flows south. We have not been invaded by Wisconsin. The yellow goldfinches come to the feeder. The ducks swim in the pond. The frogs are croaking at night. It stays light later and later. Nobody I know has been caught paying hush money to a porn star.

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What we don’t know we must invent

The past is so fascinating to me now that I have so much of it and last Monday night at a New York nightclub I listened to a big band of men in tuxedos playing 1920s jazz that I heard when I babysat the neighbors’ kids when I was 10, which I did for the chance to watch TV, which we, being Sanctified Brethren, did not have in our home, but these were Lutherans so they did, and after I wore the kids out and got them to bed, I watched old movies about sophisticated people dancing to syncopated rhythms just like what the band was playing. My Brethren considered this music wicked, apt to lead to gin, maybe fornication, but at the age of 10 I found it joyful and I still do.

Brethren music was draggy, even the hymns about joy were sung lamentfully, and the recognition of the happiness of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Tiger Rag” and “Shreveport Stomp” was a tiny step toward independent judgment.

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A day in May sitting in the Park

I go to the park because I don’t read the paper because there are too many celebrities to keep track of like Madonna, My Maia, Meghan Markle, Marla Maples, Mary Murray, Marilyn Manson, Marsha Mason, Marky Mark, Mike Marcus, Melissa McCarthy, Mo’Nique, Moses Maimonides, Lin-Manuel Miranda, not to mention Mitch McConnell and Miss Minnesota — the mind spins at the multiplicity of eminence and immortality that I’ve moved away from mass media and the megaworld and simply go walk in the park and admire the nameless walkers. benchwarmers, birdwatchers, ballplayers, and realize that celebrity being so widespread, it is anonymity that is special. Fame is an old story and the nameless are a delightful mystery.

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Why I am not joining the strike

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won’t be joining them. For one thing, the essay is deeply imbedded in our nation’s very identity (U.S.A.) but for another thing, a national essay strike would be like a National Husbands Day of Silence, most wives wouldn’t care and many wouldn’t notice.

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It’s a good time, there’s none better

I remember when I was six and was allowed to do dishes with my older brother and sister while Mother cleaned the kitchen with Lysol: it was a ceremony, a step into maturity, being entrusted to handle the family china, a mark of maturity for a little boy, and, busy, crowded around the sink, we talked a lot, a big pleasure in a family in which children were not encouraged to speak up. And I made my brother and sister laugh, describing my teacher’s upper arms that bounced as she wrote on the blackboard, that we named Hoppy and Bob, and also when I said that Washington looked like Lincoln’s wife. To think I could amuse my elders was a real spark of self-esteem.

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The beauty of being a guy

When you bang up your knee so it swells up like an elephant’s and it brings tears to your eyes to take a step, the orthopedic guy gives you a knee brace to wear requiring four straps to be wrapped tight around the leg and hooked and held tight by Velcro strips, a piece of equipment that I, a professional humorist with less mechanical ability than the average primate, need to remove every night when I go to bed and reattach in the morning. My wife could do this in a jiffy but I made her go to Minnesota to play the opera (she’s a violist) because I love her and because I don’t want her to see me as a pitiful helpless wretch. You understand.

Why should two people be miserable? One is enough.

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Whether solo or accompanied by Richard Dworsky, Heather Masse, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, or others, Garrison Keillor delivers an extraordinary, crowd-pleasing performance.

Garrison Keillor’s celebrated radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion ran for forty years. He wrote the comedy sketches and more, and he invented a “little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve.” These days, his shows are packed with humor and song, plus the audience-favorite News from Lake Wobegon. He has written dozens of books — recently, Boom Town (a Lake Wobegon novel), That Time of Year (a memoir), a book of limericks, and Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80 (reflections on why you should keep on getting older). Garrison and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, live in New York City.

Trained as a jazz singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of traditions — folk, pop, bluegrass, and more. As member of Billboard-charting group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both solo and with The Jennys. One reviewer rightly lauded her “lush velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter.”

 Prudence Johnson‘s long and happy career as a singer, writer, and teacher has landed her on the musical theater stage, in two feature films (A River Runs Through It and A Prairie Home Companion), on a national radio show (several stints on A Prairie Home Companion) and on concert stages across North America and occasionally Europe. She has released more than a dozen recordings, including albums dedicated to the music of Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown, and a collection of international lullabies.

 For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as A Prairie Home Companion’s pianist and music director, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

 Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been writer and host of a number of live history-with-music shows broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companions plus a half dozen APHC cruises, and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan on the 2005 APHC movie. He’s featured on a number of recordings with Prairie Home regulars Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson and Maria Jette.

 Composer/arranger/producer/guitarist Dean Magraw performed and recorded extensively with Ukrainian American virtuoso Peter Ostroushko over several decades, and he has worked with some of the finest musicians in the North America, Europe, and Japan. As one of his collaborators commented, “Dean Magraw’s guitar playing transcends, transports, and lifts the soul to a higher level as he weaves, cajoles, and entices every note from his instrument.”

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

 

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