The Writer’s Almanac for January 13, 2019


The Blue Blanket
by Sue Ellen Thompson

Toward the end, my father argued
with my mother over everything: He wanted
her to eat again. He wanted her to take

her medicine. He wanted her
to live. He argued with her in their bed
at naptime. He was cold, he said,

tugging at the blanket tangled
in my mother’s wasted limbs. From the hall
outside their room I listened

as love, caught and fettered, howled
at its captors, gnawing at its own flesh
in its frenzy to escape. Then I entered

without knocking, freed the blanket
trapped between my mother’s knees and shook
it out once, high above

their bodies’ cursive. It floated
for a moment, blue as the Italian sky
into which my father flew his bombs

in 1943, blue as the hat I’d bought her
for the winter she would never live
to see. My father’s agitation eased,

my mother smiled up at me, her face
lucent with gratitude, as the blanket
sifted down on them like earth.

“The Blue Blanket” by Sue Ellen Thompson. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of the novelist Edmund White, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1940). He realized he was gay when he was 12 years old, but he kept trying to blame it on things, like his shyness or the fact that his mother was overprotective. He came out to his father, and his father didn’t believe him until he hired a private investigator to follow him around.

He got a job working for Time Life Books, and he wrote fiction on the side. He wrote five novels about contemporary gay life, but he couldn’t get any of them published. So finally he wrote Forgetting Elena (1973), about a man who wakes up after a party and can’t remember who he is. Writer Vladimir Nabokov called it the best new novel he’d read in years.

But he wanted to write about his own experiences, and he set out to become the foremost gay novelist in America. His third novel, A Boy’s Own Story (1982), was the first gay coming-of-age novel in America, and it became a best-seller in the United States and England. He has gone on to write a series of novels, chronicling the history of gay society in his lifetime, including The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988), The Farewell Symphony (1997), and The Married Man (2000.)


It’s the birthday of the author who created Paddington Bear and wrote several children’s books about the endearing ursine, Michael Bond, (books by this author) born in Newbury, England (1926).

He was out doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for his wife in 1957 when he came across a small toy bear sitting on a shelf. It was the only one in the display that had not been sold, and Bond thought the bear looked “very sorry for himself.” He bought the bear and then named him “Paddington” because he and his wife lived near the Paddington underground station in London.

The bear is from Peru and had been sent to England — along with a jar of marmalade — by his Aunt Lucy. He wears a label that says, “Please look after this bear.” Throughout a series of children’s books, Paddington Bear gets into troublesome situations, but always emerges safely and everything turns out fine.

Michael Bond said: “One of the nice things about writing for children is their total acceptance of the fantastic. Give a child a stick and a patch of wet sand and it will draw the outline of a boat and accept it as such. I did learn though, that to make fantasy work you have to believe in it yourself. If an author doesn’t believe in his inventions and his characters nobody else will. Paddington to me is, and always has been, very much alive.”


It’s the birthday of Lorrie Moore (1957) (books by this author), born Marie Lorena Moore in Glens Falls, New York. She said of her childhood: “There was acting, and dressing up. We’d play music, and write crappy songs. We’d draw and paint, and fancy ourselves as artistic. It was part of being a girl in the ’60s that you were creative.” She won a short-story prize from Seventeen magazine when she was 19 years old, which prompted her to send them everything she’d ever written. She said, “They couldn’t get rid of me. I was like a stalker. I sent them everything, and of course they didn’t want anything more from me.” It was only after she told her parents about her publication that she found out they had both wanted to be writers themselves. Her father went up into the attic and brought down stories that he’d once submitted to The New Yorker, and her mother admitted that she’d given up journalism for nursing.

She published her first book, a collection of stories that she’d written in graduate school at Cornell, when she was 28. That book was Self-Help (1985), a book Moore later said has “too many birds and moons, and space aliens, and struggling artists of every stripe, as well as much illness and divorce and other sad facts of family and romantic life.” But the book was received well, and she was compared to everyone from Grace Paley to Woody Allen. She published two novels after Self-HelpAnagrams (1986) and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994); as well as some short story collections, including Birds of America (1998).

She still writes essays and criticism; a collection of such work was published last year under the title See What Can Be Done.


Today is the birthday of Horatio Alger Jr. (books by this author) born in Chelsea, Massachusetts (1832). He was the oldest of five kids, and he was nearsighted and asthmatic. He was accepted to Harvard when he was 16, and he said, “No period of my life has been one of such unmixed happiness as the four years which have been spent within college walls.” He studied under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was named Class Poet, and wrote essays, poetry, and short sketches. After graduation, he didn’t enjoy much publishing success, so he made his living by taking a series of temporary teaching jobs.

He moved to New York City, and began working with homeless and delinquent boys, establishing boarding houses and securing homes and public assistance for them. It was during this time that he started writing dime novels for boys. It was his book Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks (1868) that finally made him a literary success. Inspired by the street boys he worked with, he had found a formula that he would return to again and again: a young boy, living in poverty, manages to find success and happiness by working hard and never giving up. His books had a powerful influence on America’s self-concept as a land of rags-to-riches success stories. If you worked hard, and lived virtuously, and had a combination of “pluck and luck,” as Alger said, you could go from the gutter to the mansion.

His popularity waned near the end of the century, as boys’ tastes changed. He tried to keep up by making his books more violent, but his income dried up, and he died in near-poverty in 1899. At his request, his sister Augusta burned all of his personal correspondence. Historians have only gradually been able to reconstruct the story of his life.

sign up for Garrison's newsletter here

Why I am avoiding retirement and you should too

I feel like teaching a course on aging for people in their fifties who are headed that way but on the wrong path, looking forward to unemployment as if it were not the tragedy it is. My nephew has now achieved unemployment at age 55 and is becoming an outdoorsman and birdwatcher, the most useless occupation available to man, second only to competitive expectoration.

What can I say? The birds know who they are and are attracted to the proper mates and wary of enemies and there is little we can do to be helpful other than put out seed. Instead of showing off his familiarity with the finch family, the nephew could walk through the park, eyes peeled for slimeballs selling bad stuff to teenagers. Birdwatching can be left to the birds themselves.

All of my peers are unemployed except those of us who are writers or engaged in what we call “the arts,” where, as a rule, you keep going until you drop dead. Beethoven and Brahms didn’t retire at 65 because it’s so hard to get that good, you’d naturally keep knocking out the concerti so long as you could see and the Duke of Earl was willing to shell out the guilders. Same with painters. So long as the naked female form still held interest for them, Gauguin and Goya and their painter pals kept at the easels. The artistic life was treacherous, what with syphilis, liver damage, lead poisoning, and the knowledge that your death would wildly inflate the market value of your work, creating wealth for schlumps and nothing for you. Posthumous prosperity: what a rotten deal.

My photographer friends are a happy gang. It’s a collegial world, unlike the factionalism of fiction, the pitiless competition of poetry, the assassins of the essay. Poor focus and off-kilter framing are considered creative choices. But in my course, “The Art of Aging,” I shall guide my students toward a late literary career. You begin by writing comedy, the hardest field of all, and you write a devastating satire of whatever you did for a living, medicine, academia, the ministry, public radio, sanitation, and rip it to shreds, infuriating your colleagues who vote to take away your plaques. Then you turn out a heroic memoir, then write scandalous fiction.

The point is to stay busy. You rise in the morning with stuff to do. Work is a necessity of life. Serious work, not standing in a group of slim silent people with binoculars staring at a whippoorwill, which contributes nothing to society. Crimes occur daily that if birders had devoted themselves to watching the street rather than the sky, suffering would’ve been averted. Electric scooters go racing along the streets, ignoring red lights that if the Audubon-bons served as crossing guards instead, they could save lives rather than impressing each other with their knowledge of wrens.

I am a journalist and our role is to stir up trouble. Television is a deadly sedative: hundreds of channels are streaming thousands of shows and a person glued to it loses cranial sensation. TV is a big blur, like a day spent driving across North Dakota. Rachel Maddow helps, Tucker Carlson, Morning Joe, they try to raise the blood pressure and so does the newspaper. You glance at the front page and find three famous people to despise and your day is thereby given purpose and meaning.

Meanwhile, the disciples of Roger Tory Peterson disperse into the parks and ravines, looking up at the flyways, competing to be the first to distinguish the Canada goose from the Quebec condor and the Vermont vulture, and they feel ignored, having no natural enemies. That is my role. And so I come into their bird blind and scatter seed soaked in hallucinogens that condors and vultures snarf up and minutes later Mildred and Gladys and Marvin and Gordon are under attack by sharp-beaked fowl, waving their parasols in defense, shrieking shrieks the attackers recognize as mating cries and they spread their wings and attempt inappropriate things.

You do not fully appreciate a creature until you are attacked by it. This is what I do for the ornithology gang. I go for the throat, I make them feel like part of the natural order. Birds are real, they’re not a cartoon, and when a drug-crazed bluebird flies up in your face and pecks at your eyes, it’s something you never forget.

Me and Emily, out on the town

It got into the 90s back home the other day and friends complained to me over the phone though guiltily because they knew I’d spent a day in the ER in New York which, honestly, had been a beautiful illuminatory experience and not miserable at all, but they felt sheepish about complaining of a heat wave and the raccoons devouring their strawberries despite the netting and apologized for talking about it, feeling that a brain seizure trumps a heat wave and rapacious raccoons. Not true.

I came through the valley of the shadow of death and the Lord prepared a table before me in the ER and poured oil on my head and I came out feeling like Emily in “Our Town” — “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” I can’t help it that I have a Grover’s Corners side to my personality that emerges during big thunderstorms and at night on the bow of a ship in the mid-Atlantic and once hiking into the Grand Canyon and once during Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and also that time in the ER. Is there such a word as “enraptured”? If there is, that’s what I was.

I expected to be grumpy in old age and of course there’s still time, but instead I’m awestruck. As Emily says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” No, Emily, but I’ve realized life for about 245 minutes since a week ago, and it’s delicious. I was released on Saturday and went to church on Sunday and the choir was glorious and I wrote in the bulletin:

The words come in with a whistle
Like the sound of an incoming missile.
It’s so good to hear it,
“Let us live in the Spirit,”
From Romans, St. Paul’s epistle.

When you’re in the Spirit, it’s a sort of weight loss. I became 165 pounds, walking down Amsterdam Avenue to lunch with a friend whose granddaughter got married recently, the wedding dress refitted to accommodate the little boy in the bride’s belly, and in her great happiness, the grandma is setting out to write a memoir. I told her to avoid modesty. “No problem,” she said. She is 88, a decade ahead of me, and she is funny and sassy and when she goes after the high and the mighty, she can be devastating. She’s a scout riding ahead on the trail and the report is inspiring.

As for raccoons, I take this seriously. My dad grew up on a farm and he loved fresh strawberries, sweet corn, and tomatoes, and that’s why we were landowners, not apartment dwellers. He knew the difference between fresh strawberries and store-bought and fresh was a pleasure he cherished. He didn’t drink whiskey or chew tobacco or dance the tango, but he loved stuff from his garden. I had artistic ambitions and felt superior to gardeners; I was a songwriter and my best song was the one with the verse in the middle:

I love you, darling,
Waiting alone.
Waiting for you to show,
Wishing you’d call me though
I don’t have a phone.

But now I don’t see it as superior to strawberries. The wonders of the world all join in praise of the Creator. Minneapolis made a political decision to require dogs to be leashed because loose dogs can be frightening to children. Dogs running loose also defend the garden against raccoons. And so, Rocky Raccoon devours the good strawberries and people have to buy a pint at the grocery for $6, unfresh from California, and so a growing minority believes that a conspiracy of Satanists is running the country.

I do not. A man who goes into the ER amid the dying and distressed and comes out and goes to church is like Emily, a ghost walking among the living, telling them to love this life and all the ordinary things in it, clocks ticking and coffee and the walnut baklava with gelato and the couples walking along Amsterdam and the long-legged woman in denim shorts and the cops having a smoke and the smile on the waiter’s face as she sets down the bill, which moves me to tip her 40%, that smile that says, “Oh, earth, you are too wonderful,” and I say goodbye to my friend and come home. I have ten more years. What a gift. Life is good and one visit to the ER confirms it so let us drive upstate, darling, and look for a sign, “Pick Your Own Strawberries,” and be ecstatic.

A man in a back pew, thinking to himself 

I’ve been avoiding the news for a while, but it was hard to ignore the recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that showed about 15 percent of Americans believe the government is controlled by Satanists who kidnap children and drink their blood and that patriots will need to depose them by violent revolution. This represents as many people as belong to Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches in America. It is sort of dizzying to contemplate, even for an Episcopalian like me.

The study found that 55 percent of Republicans “mostly disagreed” with those ideas but not entirely. One-fourth of Republicans disagreed entirely, compared to 58 percent of Democrats, which still leaves a good many ambivalent Democrats.

It makes me wonder about the purity of drinking water in the middle of the country. These are not ideas taught in public school civics courses. I’ve never overheard anyone discussing Satanist pedophiles at a table near me at lunch. But PRRI now classifies QAnon, which holds these views, as a major religion. So there you are. Welcome to the 21st century.

This was why I took a vacation from the news, to avoid getting foamed up about something that exists only in people’s minds and not in the world you and I walk through every day. There are paranoids who view passersby with suspicion. I grew up among gentle people who believed that God had revealed truths to them that were denied to the rest of Christendom. I am related to some of those people. Slightly nutty, but harmless.

The day that Senator McConnell proposes a temporary suspension of the Bill of Rights to allow a cleansing of Satanist pedophiles in the State Department is the day I get alarmed about QAnon and until then I don’t care what they think. Let Joe Biden worry about it. That’s what we elected him to do.

I am going to focus on what I hear directly from people I know. I know two women who recently gave birth to their first babies and are joyful and so are their men and that is real news. A grandson is starting college. A daughter is moving. A friend has finished a novel. A widowed friend, marrying again at 84, writes to say he is well and adds, “And it’s none of your business but the sex is great.” A cousin attended a graduation ceremony at a school for intellectually disabled children and one poor graduate stammered through a speech of which little could be understood and the crowd clapped all the harder for him.

Life Goes On. That’s the news. Mosquitoes drink children’s blood and they don’t run the government. And after a year away, I return to my church, the one that believes God sent His Son to this planet to suffer and die for the redemption of the wayward human race.

All of my spiritual elders are gone, the ones who taught me lessons from the Bible, so I am on my own. I pray that they found the heavenly reward they trusted would be theirs. I believe in a fraction of what I was taught, my faith wavers. My faithful older brother whom I could talk to about these things went skating one day, slipped, hit his head, and died, and now I am much older than he is. My elders believed in a fiery Hell but did not beat up on us about it; I don’t. Nor do I believe that Heaven is the most beautiful golf course ever. (“If you hadn’t made me stop smoking, Marge, I could’ve been here years ago.”) But I do believe that when Jesus, surrounded by the sick and impoverished and oppressed, the blind and demon-possessed, said to his disciples, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me and your Father in heaven,” he spoke the truth, and if you wish for some truth in your life, along with your interesting attitudes and opinions, this is the one to go for.

My elders tried to make Scripture be clear, rational, inevitable, irrefutable, but it actually is miraculous. Ancient tribes wandering the desert discovered that they were dearly loved by their Creator who allowed them to suffer in hopes it would draw them closer to Him. I don’t get it but I go for it. And the choir was glorious on Sunday. Oh my God in heaven, what a joyful noise.

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 29, 2021

Wednesday

5:30 p.m.

The Avalon, Stillwater, MN

Just Added: Stillwater, MN 6-29

GARRISON KEILLOR and some friends from Prairie Home Poetry, Stories, and Classic Duets Featuring: Prudence Johnson Bob Douglas and Adam Granger Dan Chouinard, music director   JUST ADDED   June 29, 2021, 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM  THE AVALON, STILLWATER, MN St. Croix Boat & Packet Co., 525 Main Street South, Stillwater, MN 55082 DINNER, CRUISE, […]

June 30, 2021

Wednesday

5:30 p.m.

The Avalon, Stillwater, MN

Stillwater, MN 6-30

GARRISON KEILLOR and some friends from Prairie Home Poetry, Stories, and Classic Duets Featuring: Prudence Johnson Bob Douglas and Adam Granger Dan Chouinard, music director   June 30, 2021, 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM  THE AVALON, STILLWATER, MN St. Croix Boat & Packet Co., 525 Main Street South, Stillwater, MN 55082 DINNER, CRUISE, AND SHOW […]

July 2, 2021

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Bayfield, WI

GARRISON KEILLOR and some friends from Prairie Home Poetry, Stories, and Classic Duets Featuring: Prudence Johnson Bob Douglas and Adam Granger Dan Chouinard, music director   July 2, 2021, 7:30 PM  BIG TOP CHAUTAUQUA, BAYFIELD, WI Reserved $60/$52/$42 The Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua is a 900-seat music venue and performing arts center, located near […]

July 4, 2021

Sunday

4:00 p.m.

Summerfield Amphitheater, St. Michael, MN

St. Michael, MN

GARRISON KEILLOR and some friends from Prairie Home Poetry, Stories, and Classic Duets Featuring: Prudence Johnson Bob Douglas and Adam Granger Dan Chouinard, music director   JULY 4, 2021, 4:00 PM  SUMMERFIELD AMPHITHEATER 4300 O’Day Ave. NE, St. Michael, MN 55376 $42/$15 Outside concert FAQs In 2021 we are going bigger, better, bolder, and in the […]

Radio

To make a donation to support ongoing production of The Writer’s Almanac, please click here.

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

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 14, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 14, 2021

It’s the birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811), abolitionist author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly.”

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: June 19, 2010

A Prairie Home Companion: June 19, 2010

Our broadcast comes from a performance at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. With special guest, Bluegrass sensation Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Also with us, Kent, Ohio’s very own Jessica Lea Mayfield, vocalist Andra Suchy.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 13, 2021

“Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare.” A quote by sociologist and writer Harriet Martineau, born this day in England, 1802.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 12, 2021

“Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare.” A quote by sociologist and writer Harriet Martineau, born this day in England, 1802.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 11, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 11, 2021

Ben Jonson, author, playwright, friend of William Shakespeare, was born on this day in London, probably in 1572.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 10, 2021

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow was born on this day in 1913. “Human beings can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Today is the birthday of the man who wrote the songs “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”: Cole Porter (1891).

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 8, 2021

It’s the birthday of best-selling crime novelist Sara Paretsky (1947), who invented a smart, sexual, hard-boiled female detective, V.I. Warshawski, in her novel “Indemnity Only.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 7, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 7, 2021

“Writers don’t write from experience … If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” — Nikki Giovanni (1943)

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: June 12, 2004

A Prairie Home Companion: June 12, 2004

From the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Our musical guests include Bulgarian violin prodigy Bella Hristova, as well as acoustic guitar master Leo Kottke and singer Janis Hardy.

Read More
Writing

Why I am avoiding retirement and you should too

I feel like teaching a course on aging for people in their fifties who are headed that way but on the wrong path, looking forward to unemployment as if it were not the tragedy it is. My nephew has now achieved unemployment at age 55 and is becoming an outdoorsman and birdwatcher, the most useless occupation available to man, second only to competitive expectoration.

What can I say? The birds know who they are and are attracted to the proper mates and wary of enemies and there is little we can do to be helpful other than put out seed. Instead of showing off his familiarity with the finch family, the nephew could walk through the park, eyes peeled for slimeballs selling bad stuff to teenagers. Birdwatching can be left to the birds themselves.

All of my peers are unemployed except those of us who are writers or engaged in what we call “the arts,” where, as a rule, you keep going until you drop dead. Beethoven and Brahms didn’t retire at 65 because it’s so hard to get that good, you’d naturally keep knocking out the concerti so long as you could see and the Duke of Earl was willing to shell out the guilders. Same with painters. So long as the naked female form still held interest for them, Gauguin and Goya and their painter pals kept at the easels. The artistic life was treacherous, what with syphilis, liver damage, lead poisoning, and the knowledge that your death would wildly inflate the market value of your work, creating wealth for schlumps and nothing for you. Posthumous prosperity: what a rotten deal.

Read More

Me and Emily, out on the town

It got into the 90s back home the other day and friends complained to me over the phone though guiltily because they knew I’d spent a day in the ER in New York which, honestly, had been a beautiful illuminatory experience and not miserable at all, but they felt sheepish about complaining of a heat wave and the raccoons devouring their strawberries despite the netting and apologized for talking about it, feeling that a brain seizure trumps a heat wave and rapacious raccoons. Not true.

I came through the valley of the shadow of death and the Lord prepared a table before me in the ER and poured oil on my head and I came out feeling like Emily in “Our Town” — “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” I can’t help it that I have a Grover’s Corners side to my personality that emerges during big thunderstorms and at night on the bow of a ship in the mid-Atlantic and once hiking into the Grand Canyon and once during Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and also that time in the ER. Is there such a word as “enraptured”? If there is, that’s what I was.

Read More

A man in a back pew, thinking to himself

I’ve been avoiding the news for a while, but it was hard to ignore the recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that showed about 15 percent of Americans believe the government is controlled by Satanists who kidnap children and drink their blood and that patriots will need to depose them by violent revolution. This represents as many people as belong to Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches in America. It is sort of dizzying to contemplate, even for an Episcopalian like me.

The study found that 55 percent of Republicans “mostly disagreed” with those ideas but not entirely. One-fourth of Republicans disagreed entirely, compared to 58 percent of Democrats, which still leaves a good many ambivalent Democrats.

It makes me wonder about the purity of drinking water in the middle of the country. These are not ideas taught in public school civics courses. I’ve never overheard anyone discussing Satanist pedophiles at a table near me at lunch. But PRRI now classifies QAnon, which holds these views, as a major religion. So there you are. Welcome to the 21st century.

Read More

Out of the bubble, into the hullabaloo

Spent twenty-four hours in an emergency ward and am still giddy from it and from having gotten off light when it could’ve been otherwise, which someday it will but not yet. I lay in a little alcove, off a busy core of staff at computers, gurneys coming and going, beepers beeping, but vast professional courtesy prevailing. It was a big hospital on 68th and York in Manhattan, so it was an international staff, Asia, Africa, all over. My neighbor was a woman with cancer who often yelled, “Somebody come and help me! I just want to die! Help me!” and my other neighbor was a drunk who was mentally ill and also a jerk, a terrible combination. He had checked himself in and was now calling 911 to come get him out. Four cops arrived. It may have been the highlight of their day.

As for me, I’d been sent by my doctor for tests after I’d twice blanked out and had memory lapses (including the name of my doctor), which alarmed my wife. I called the doctor and his secretary asked for my phone number and when I couldn’t recall it, she put me right through. I took a cab over and Dr. Nash quizzed me. I’ve suffered a couple of strokes in the past, light ones, and he is a good explainer, and I canceled everything and went over to ER. My wife kissed me goodbye and said, “You remember that Maia was born here, right?” I did, then.

Read More

Why we are staying home tonight, not going out

We sat out on our terrace in New York the other night, she and I, and cherished the feel of summer, a great blessing to us stoical northerners unaccustomed to paradise, so we contemplate all that is to come, the first rhubarb and strawberries, strawberry-rhubarb pie, sweet corn, fireflies flashing each other, the light produced by the oxidation of luciferin — one of those insignificant facts you carry around, waiting for a chance to dazzle someone with. If I were a firefly, I’d say to a female, That’s the oxidization of luciferin there, you know, and she’d be impressed and we’d mate and then I’d die.

I look forward to the next big storm, purple sky, lightning ripping the sky, volleys of thunder, so I can be calm and reassuring, a manly role, though I’m the last person you’d want in a real emergency. If I tried to give artificial respiration, I’d probably suffocate the patient.

Read More

Going to Newport with Mrs. Dashboard

We went to Newport for three days last week, two Minnesotans long married, to rediscover the fact that ocean air is delicious and invigorating and can even make you happy. That surely is why the Vanderbilts built their monstrous mansion on the shore: sinking into decadence in a fake palace with more marble than Arlington Cemetery, nonetheless they could take a deep breath and feel childlike pleasure. So could their servants. So did we, crossing the beautiful bridges over the bays to Aquidneck Island, seeing the Atlantic, thinking “Oh wow” and “Oh my god.” The world is in turmoil, but walking along the shore and inhaling salt air lets you remember how good it felt to be twelve years old.

It’s a fine old town. You come and eat oysters and cod, text videos of the surf to your inland friends, and drive around and get your fill of colonial homes in dark greens and browns, many of them turned into boutique hotels. It’s here that I appreciate having a car with an electronic lady in the dashboard to give us directions. You simply press a button and say, “Cliff Walk,” and she says, “In six hundred feet, turn left on Narragansett Avenue and drive one-half mile.” Her vocal inflexion is very good; she sounds like an educated American woman in her mid-forties who knows her way around. And you drive down Narragansett and there, past Salve Regina College, is the ocean with Cliff Walk above it and you walk along the cliff and you can look across the vast green lawn to the marble pile where the Vanderbilts sank their ill-gotten gains, which is open for tourists to wander through and see how grim boughten grandeur can be.

Read More

An adventure in my own home on Tuesday

The life of an honest satirist is a hard life and so there are few of them. We cherish our delusions — I am very fond of mine, especially the belief that I am master of my house and captain of my ship, but on Tuesday, sitting on the throne, I saw that the toilet paper dispenser was empty, no extra rolls of Scott tissue in sight, and the Chief Provisioner was off on her daily walk, and so I had to hike around the apartment, pants at half-mast, looking for the goods.

A man who doesn’t know where the toilet paper is kept in an apartment he’s lived in for many years is in a ridiculous position. He knows this as he wanders from room to room, opening cupboards, looking in drawers, hoping she does not walk in and see her husband the noted author in this delicate moment. He has lived with his head in the clouds and lost touch with the essentials of life.

Read More

The impending crisis of exploding cicada data

My grandpa left Glasgow in 1905 and sailed to America and brought his thirteen children up as Americans and so I haven’t yet taken a position on Scottish independence but with the resounding victory of the Scottish National Party in elections last week, I suppose I’ll have to. I like to involve myself in other people’s problems where I myself have nothing at all at stake. Someone asked me about Ukraine the other day and though I haven’t heard anything from there in a long time, I gave a good answer, reasonable, balanced, on the one hand this, on the other hand that.

Meanwhile, I’ve been focused on the crisis of the seventeen-year cicada, trillions of which will soon crawl out of the ground from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, from Georgia to New England, their incessant skritching filling the air for weeks, as they breed and the males drop dead and the females lay eggs to hatch into larvae to tunnel down into the ground to spend seventeen years and then resurrect.

Read More

Chapter 47: the joys of aging

“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward,” said Kierkegaard, who only lived to be 42, died of TB, too young to enjoy the blessing of old age as I do. The longer you live, the more you understand how ignorant we were and by the time we know better, it’s too late, so we let young people run the world and in our remaining years, all we need do is enjoy them. The economy is their problem.

This dawned on me Tuesday at the ophthalmologist’s, sitting with his giant ophthalmoscope up to my face, my eyes dilated, looking at his left ear as instructed, as he told me that my macular degeneration is, though hardly immaculate, not as degenerate as it was a year ago. The certificates on his wall are a blur, I can’t see if he’s an ophthalmologist or an opera singer or a member of the Optimists, but I take his word on faith and go forth in hope out onto 65th Street, which is like a beautiful impressionistic cityscape, like Renoir but with a “Don’t Walk” sign you should notice.

Read More

Thoughts while ambling around Minneapolis

May is a beautiful month with a hopeful sound to it (I may write a novel, I may take tango lessons, I may buy a schooner and sail the Atlantic, I may survive the journey), but here in Minnesota, snowfall is still a slim possibility, and I can imagine going out for a walk one morning and with my glasses fogged up from my mask, I hit a patch of ice and slip and fall, twisting, waving my arms and a vertebra slips loose and I land on my left hip, hear something crack, lie with my leg bent funny, thinking about getting up but not yet, and I’m not angry, I don’t call on God to damn anything, but I know I have entered a world of pain and an endless odyssey from Mayo to Sloan Kettering to Cleveland Chiropractic to Chicago Shiatsu to Sister Faith Atkins at Holiness Baptist in Luttrell, Tennessee, and wind up in a mindfulness class in Tallahassee where a woman named Maple leads us in deep breathing exercises and shows us how to exhale all our stress and anxiety. A sudden fall can do that to a person. You feel invigorated by fresh air and you take long strides and look up at the greening of the maples and in one horrible minute your life changes to a quest for relief of lower back pain.

I am a cheerful man but I know that life-changing disaster is ever a possibility and so when I arrive safely at home and I have not been attacked by a herd of pigeons demented from having eaten garlicky croutons pigeons are allergic to, I feel grateful. And thus I go around in a mood of gratitude all the day long.

Read More

Email sign-up:

Sign up for the Garrison Keillor & Friends email newsletter here >>>

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

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


Submit to The Writer’s Almanac:

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


ShopGarrisonKeillor.com Questions 

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


Get In Touch
Send Message

Press Kit

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

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

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

Recent reviews:

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

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

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

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

To make a donation to The Writer’s Almanac, click here >>>Won

           Lake Wobegon virus cover.

 

           .