The Writer’s Almanac for August 1, 2019


iPoem
by George Bilgere

Someone’s taken a bite
from my laptop’s glowing apple,
the damaged fruit of our disobedience,
of which we must constantly be reminded.

There’s the fatal crescent, the dark smile
of Eve, who never dreamed of a laptop,
who, in fact, didn’t even have clothes,
or anything else for that matter,

which was probably the nicest thing
about the Garden, I’m thinking,

as I sit here in the cafe
with my expensive computer,
afraid to get up even for a minute
in order to go to the bathroom
because someone might steal it

in this fallen world she invented
with a single bite
of an apple nobody, and I mean
nobody,
was going to tell her not to eat.

 

“iPoem” by George Bilgere from Imperial. © University of Pittsburgh, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Today is the birthday of Maria Mitchell (books by this author), the first acknowledged female astronomer, born in 1818 on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. Although the American essayist Hannah Crocker explained that same year in her Observations on the Real Rights of Women that it was then a woman’s “province to soothe the turbulent passions of men … to shine in the domestic circle” and that “it would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men,” Maria Mitchell’s Quaker parents believed that girls should have the same access to education and the same chance to aspire to high goals as boys, and they raised all 10 of their children as equals.

Maria’s early interest in science and the stars came from her father, a dedicated amateur astronomer who shared with all his children what he saw as physical evidence of God in the natural world, although Maria was the only child interested enough to learn the mathematics of astronomy. She would later say, in a quote recorded in NASA’s profile of her, that we should “not look at the stars as bright spots only [but] try to take in the vastness of the universe,” because “every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.”

By age 12, Maria was assisting her father with his astronomical observations and data, and just five years later opened and ran her own school for girls, training them in the sciences and math. In 1838, she became the librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum and began spending her evenings in an observatory her father had built atop the town’s bank.

On October 1, 1848, a crisp, clear autumn evening, Maria focused her father’s telescope on a distant star. The light was faint and blurry, and Maria suddenly realized she was looking not at a star, but a comet; she recorded its coordinates, and when she saw the next night that the fuzzy light had moved, she was sure. Maria shared her discovery with her father, who wrote to the Harvard Observatory, who in turn passed her name on to the king of Denmark, who had pledged a gold medal to the first person to discover a comet so distant that it could only be seen through a telescope. Maria was awarded the medal the following year, and the comet became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Mitchell’s list of firsts is impressive: She’d made the first American comet sighting; in 1848, she was the first woman appointed to the American Association for the Advancement of Science; in 1853, she became the first woman to earn an advanced degree; and in 1865, she became the first woman appointed to the faculty of the newly founded Vassar Female College as their astronomy professor and the head of their observatory, making her the first female astronomy professor in American history.

Mitchell also became a devoted anti-slavery activist and suffragette, with friends such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women.


Herman Melville was born (books by this author) on this day in 1819 in New York City. The Melvilles were a family of Revolutionary War heroes and once-prominent merchants but, by young Herman’s time, the family was in decline and the boy was raised in an atmosphere of financial instability and refined pretense.

In 1834, Melville left school to became a bank clerk, then tried farming and teaching, and in 1837 took to the sea for the first time as a cabin boy on a merchant ship bound for Liverpool with a hold full of cotton. Upon returning to New York, Melville held a series of unsatisfying jobs and decided to try his fortune in the West where for several months he saw the prairies, the western wilderness, the Mississippi headwaters and the Falls of St. Anthony but did not find a career. Melville returned to the east and in 1841 again signed up for the seafaring life, this time on the whaling shape the Acushnet, to cruise for whales in the Pacific for several years. Melville got more than he’d likely expected: The cruelties he experience on the Acushnet, jumping ship in the Marquesas, being held in friendly if determined captivity by a band of Polynesians, escaping aboard an Australian whaler, which he also eventually jumped, and finally making his way to Hawaii and then back to the mainland.

When he returned in 1844, the 25-year-old Melville found an eager audience for his sailor’s yarns, and he began writing a series of personal narratives on his adventures in Polynesia, on whaling, and on life as a merchant mariner. From these stories, Melville completed his first novel, Typee, which was partly based on his experiences as a captive. Although Melville’s first attempt to publish his book was met with rejection on the grounds that the story couldn’t possibly be true and was therefore of no value, once in print it was an instant best-seller and Melville quickly followed it with the equally popular Omoo.

In 1847, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw and the couple set up housekeeping in New York with Melville’s younger brother and sister-in-law, their mother, and four of their sisters. Melville began work on his next novel, Mardi, although his living situation was not necessarily conducive to the easy production of a book, and his taste in reading shifted to include romantic novels — which he probably shared with his wife — a change of interest that can be seen in the fantastical, romantic conclusion of Mardi.

The Melvilles then settled into a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was here, in 1850, that Melville would meet Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom Melville would come to think of as a dear friend and confidant. The following year, after an intoxicating period of exploring the ideas of transcendentalism and allegorical writing, Melville penned his enduring masterpiece, Moby Dick, the lyrical, epic story of Ahab and the infamous white whale, dedicating it to Hawthorne in “admiration for his genius.” Moby Dick was met with mixed reviews. The London News declared Melville’s power of language “unparalleled,” while the novel was criticized elsewhere for its unconventional storytelling, and Melville’s fans were disappointed not to find the same kind of adventure story they had loved in Typee and Omoo. It was the beginning of the end of Melville’s career as a novelist and, following a series of literary failures, he turned to farming and writing articles to support his family.

When the family returned to New York City in 1863, Melville became a customs inspector and began a second literary life as a poet, drawing on the emotional impact of the Civil War. His first book of poetry was Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, which was praised in numerous American newspapers and magazines, but Melville was never again to rise to the prominence he’d experienced at the beginning of his career, and his ensuing stories and poems were largely ignored, including the posthumously published novel, Billy Budd.

It took readers until the 1920s to catch up to the prose, style, and power of Moby Dick. But once they did, appreciation never again lagged, and Melville’s masterpiece is now regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written.


Today is the birthday of the man who composed the American national anthem, Francis Scott Key, born on the family plantation in what is now Carroll County, Maryland (1779). During the War of 1812, he was aboard a British ship off the coast of Baltimore negotiating a prisoner exchange and became aware of an impending British attack on the nearby Fort McHenry. He was held captive and for two days forced to watch the bombardment of the unsuspecting American troops. And after being released, he wrote a poem called “Defense of Fort McHenry,” in which he recounted the sight of the flag still waving through the debris of battle. The poem was fitted to a popular English tune of the day and soon became widely known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” President Woodrow Wilson declared it the national anthem in 1916, and Congress followed with a resolution in 1931, signed by President Hoover. Key later authored a book on religion and literature and had a career as a lawyer.


It’s the birthday of the poet who said, “Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.” James Dennis “Jim” Carroll (books by this author), born in Manhattan, New York (1949.) He grew up on the Lower East Side, a talented student and basketball player.

He published The Basketball Diaries (1978), excerpts of which had been picked up by The Paris Review.

His books of poems include Living at the Movies, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination at the age of 22.

At the prodding of his friend Patti Smith, he launched The Jim Carroll Band in the ’80s. His albums include Catholic Boy (1980), Dry Dreams (1982), and I Write Your Name (1983).

Sing Along (Click image)
Sing Along at the Ryman 2022
BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s 2022 novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

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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

 

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Even old people need to explore new realms

I’m an American, I like to believe that nobody but nobody is beyond the reach of friendship and understanding, not even North Koreans or former felons or the creators of complex security systems that have driven me to the brink of madness, trying to remember the password for my computer and then having to replace the password and confirm my identity by typing in a six-numeral code sent to me on my cellphone whose password I now can’t remember either.

I don’t have top-secret documents stored in the phone or in the laptop. I have a lot of appeals for donations from Democratic politicians and lefty organizations such as Citizens United for Diversity & Inclusivity In American Humor (CUDIAH), none of which needs to be kept from prying eyes. I’m a Democrat. So what? I wish I had a friend in the password biz who could say, “Oh, passwords went out of usage long ago, nobody does that anymore, you just need a simple voice-recognition system that eliminates the need for passwords.” My current friends are all liberal-arts grads who know nothing about this stuff. Do you get my drift?

I need to broaden my social circle. All of my friends are aging liberals, and they’re perfectly nice people but our conversation is the same old same old stuff repeated, reiterated, recycled, re-repeated, et cetera. We talk about the cold, about our grandkids, about bad books we’ve read recently. We’re still talking about the guy who uses bronzer and combs little squiggles in his hair. Which is so over. I mean, really.

I do not have a single friend who was looking forward to hearing Taylor Swift and who was furious at Ticketmaster for messing up her tour and watched carefully the congressional hearings into the whole Swiftian crisis. Nobody.

I wish I knew some Swift fans and I’ve tried to make connections but I am not good at texting because I use just one finger and they text at 60 w.p.m. with both thumbs and even when I’m sitting next to them they still prefer texting to talking, and I fall behind, which marks me as untextworthy, and they go like “C.U.” or “BRB” and they’re gone. I’m trying to like Taylor’s songs but it’s not easy.

You were so awful to me
And I sat there and took it
You had me in your pocket
So you could just reach in
Like grabbing a keychain,
I was a handkerchief to blow your nose on
But now I’m gone.
I’ll never be in love with you again.

All I can say is if a girlfriend of mine wrote a break-up song as bad as that, she never would’ve been my girlfriend to begin with so there never would’ve been anything to break up.

My friends tend to be overeducated, quasi-vegan, animal-rights types, though they whack flies and poison cockroaches and set vicious traps for rodents as if Mickey and Minnie have no right to exist — but hey, inconsistency is the spice of life — and just once I’d like to have a personal friend who’d invite me to sit in his den unmasked and look at his Mannlicher-Schönauer bolt-action 30-06 and admire the heads of water buffalo and jaguar and giraffe mounted on the walls and show me videos from his latest safari to Uganda, which by accident segues into scenes from Nancy Pelosi’s office on January 6, 2021.

America is awash in firearms and I don’t have a single close friend who owns even a .22. I don’t personally know a single Proud Boy or Minuteman or Viking Avenger.

I’m not saying I approve of these people — au contraire, mon cher — I’d simply like to know somebody over on the dark side who is up on all the latest conspiracies, rather than the folks in my book club or the people I meet at coffee hour after church or at meetings of my ACLU chapter.

I feel a little smothered by good intentions and I’d like to see more of the world before I start the long grim slide. I’m not looking for an illicit romance or anything dangerous, I’m considering becoming a Republican realtor in Wabash, Indiana, and say bad things about Biden, just to see what it feels like, maybe go to a target range, do some bowling. My wife loves New York but I talked her into marrying me and how much harder could Wabash be than that? Six months is all I ask, darling. Just for the experience.

The beauty of a bitterly cold Sunday, 8 a.m.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

I knelt and prayed for my loved ones, that they be spared my anxiety. I could hear my own voice proclaiming the Nicene Creed, the whole megillah, including the unbelievable part about God coming to earth and becoming incarnate by the Virgin Mary, and it did nothing for the lead in my heart nor, as it turned out, did the homily.

What I found inspiring were two Scripture readings, one from the prophet Micah, where the reader faced the line, “O my people, remember what happened from Shittim to Gilgal that you may know the saving acts of the Lord,” and she slowed down when she saw “Shittim” and got traction and very carefully pronounced it “shi-team.” I was the only one in the sanctuary immature enough to enjoy this moment. There were no 13-year-old boys there, just me. I could tell from her voice that the reader had been dreading this for an hour, trying to decide between “shy-tim” and “shi-team” and fearing that she’d slip and pronounce it phonetically and a marble angel would fall and crash and red lights would flash and people would require treatment for post-traumatic stress.

And then moments later she read from First Corinthians that we do not find God through wisdom. No, God chose what is foolish to shame the wise, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. The thought of God’s foolishness is a radical one, seldom mentioned in church, and near me were some highly educated people, including a man who got his Ph.D. in classic philosophy from Harvard and here I sat, a writer of limericks and a lover of juvenile jokes (Knock-knock. “Who’s there?” Eskimo Christians. “Eskimo Christians who?” Eskimo Christians, I’ll tell you no lies.) and when I went forward for Communion I felt foolishly happy. The wafer was not artisanal, the wine too sweet, but I received it with a good and grateful heart.

I went downstairs for coffee. People were gathering for the election of church officers and I joined them. It had been an austere service but it took a big load off my mind, the woman navigating her way around “Shittim” — it’s in the sixth chapter of Micah, look it up — and the words “God’s foolishness” — the playfulness of the Creator of the universe who 13 billion years ago, from a little speck of matter, suddenly produced an infinity of galaxies of which our Milky Way is a small specimen and the solar system turning around our sun is but a kiddie amusement park and our little planet is a jungle gym and hot dog stand.

I sat down and someone said, “Welcome home.” I live in New York but I used to be from here and that was nice. Two candidates for church warden stood and gave brief speeches and I wrote a limerick:

I am not running for warden:
It’s a job I know I’d be bored in,
Running a prison.
My calling is in
Enjoying the journey toward Jordan.

A dreadful night, a cold day, a juvenile joke, I’m a happy man. The Greeks and Romans loved poop jokes: go ahead and google it. The world is a mess but dread gets us nowhere so cheer up and then go do what you were put here to do. I was put here to cheer you up. So smile.

 

What I did when you were asleep

I just heard the story of the professor who refused to have “(he, him, his)” after his name on correspondence and his chairman who said, “You must. It’s policy.” And the professor said, “I don’t care. I won’t.” I understand that the policy police haven’t been called yet to haul him away for genderphobia and I salute him for resisting: the policy has no purpose, it’s about appearances.

Here is one more good reason to avoid a career in Academia. I write “(me/us/hers)” after my name and nobody can tell me otherwise. This is America, not Argentina. When I walk into the clinic and a sign says “Masks required,” I put one on, because there is science behind it. I go to the public library and turn my phone off out of simple consideration for the readers and writers at my table.

If you take a look at me, you’ll see a guy with short hair, in a brown pinstripe suit, wearing shoes with low heels, no necklace, and from that you can deduce whatever you like, monarchist, Mormon missionary, male model, whatever amuses you. What matters more is that you say, “Good morning,” “good to see you,” “like your red socks,” the little mannerly murmurs of daily life.

That’s the end of today’s lecture. Let’s talk about morning instead.

I’ve been going to bed at 8 and rising at 4, due to a construction project going on across the hall, which begins around 9 and which sounds like the walls of Babylon being knocked down by Vandals using battering rams. I’m a writer by trade, even though I don’t put it in parentheses after my name, I let people think what they want, and we writers don’t do well in scenes of battle and wholesale destruction. So I move bedtime up a few hours. Ten years ago my family sailed to Southampton aboard the Queen Mary 2, an expensive cruise, but an excellent investment because every night I can put myself to sleep by imagining myself at the rail sailing past the Statue of Liberty and inching under the Verrazano Bridge and by the time we’re at sea, I’m asleep.

Four a.m. is a peaceful hour. A person is unaware of time. If what you’re writing is of interest, it wakes you up. If not, you’re in the wrong line of work. It’s the hour of freedom. Around six, if the work goes well, I reward myself with breakfast. My sweetheart is a somewhat-vegan but she is asleep and so I can roast up a sirloin with fried eggs and feel a kinship with Beowulf and Hrothgar.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I do not feed on roots or lettuce leaf
But microwave a bowl of frozen fries,
To eat with eggs and half a pound of beef.

Man is a hunter — women could thrive on a diet of nasturtiums and leaves of grass, but men cannot, and there are millions of cattle wandering around and what else are they for? They’re not going to work out new algorithms. My sweetheart thinks I eat too much red meat. Maybe so. So I’ll skip it this morning and make oatmeal instead and enjoy a sense of righteousness. Meanwhile I have three hours of peace until Armageddon resumes.

The owners of the apartment across the hall are going to feel a definite chill when finally they move into their luxurious quarters. When they invite us over for drinks, I’ll think up a communicable disease. And I may buy a couple speakers the size of VWs and turn up the volume on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and maybe leave town for a month and have a crew come in and tear down some walls.

But I have decided to give up anger in my old age. I decided this months ago and I am sticking to it. I gave up looking at the news, and now if wars had ceased and Martians had located us and a cure for cancer had been found and the Vikings had won the Super Bowl, I would be unaware of it.

And so in this new spirit I am writing a book about cheerfulness, which is due out in the spring. I’ve looked around bookstores and found hundreds of books about clueless parents and bad boyfriends and the imminent demise of civilization, and I could write one about noisy neighbors, but I choose to write about gratitude and lightheartedness. I think they/them/those might need something like that and if, like the Queen Mary, it puts them to sleep, that is useful too.

 

I am giving up anger, so should you

The apartment across the hall from where we’re staying in Minneapolis is undergoing extensive renovation, walls being moved, floors torn up, and every day last week the noise from there was seismic, volcanic, like they were throwing pickup trucks into a giant grinder, and when I walked out of our place and saw a workman I asked him how long this racket would continue and I used, as a modifier to “racket,” a word not seen in your family newspaper, not yet, God help us, though I’ve heard it used by small children in New York attending schools named for saints. Kids grow up faster in New York. I felt bad about my cursing. I still do. I am trying to give up anger. It’s poisonous and it has no effect other than to make the angerer feel bad and perhaps do something truly stupid. You sit in a traffic jam yelling at other drivers and where does it get you? You read about Kevin McCarthy online and in your fury you hurl your laptop out the window and how does this change anything? (I didn’t do that, only considered it.) So I am skipping the front page and enjoying reading the angry comments on the editorial page and the obits and stories about minor crime. From this, I learn that (1) Americans aren’t adept at cutting people down, like whoever said of Endicott Peabody that he was the only Massachusetts politician to have four towns named for him –– Peabody, Marblehead, Athol, and Hyannis. We tend to mutter. (2) Good obits are few and far between. They’re over-the-top laudatory and they leave out the delicious details. Minor rock musicians die and you read that they “had a profound effect on music at the time” when what you want to know is exactly how many hotel rooms did he destroy. (3) There’s a great deal of outright stupidity in the world of crime. Last week I read about a bearded man wearing a mask and dark glasses, gloves and tan sweater, carrying a handgun, who walked into a bank in St. Paul and demanded money from three tellers in turn, his pistol aimed at them, and he followed them as they went to a safe for more. He wound up with $28,000, which he put into an Aldi grocery store bag and departed, unaware that a tracking device was included with the cash, which led police to find him a half mile away, on foot, carrying the Aldi bag with the money in it and also the mask, wearing the sunglasses. He claimed to have found the bag with the money in it and he declined to answer questions but they found a library card with his name on it, which corresponded with his fingerprints on the bag. He also carried an unloaded Ruger handgun. He was bearded. The reporter Nick Ferraro wrote the story beautifully, with all the fine details, the library card, the grocery bag, and also the perp saying to the tellers as he departed with the cash and tracker, “Have a nice day. Stay warm.” And his refusal to talk to police. You’re holding the Aldi bag with the dough in it and you fit the description and you walk away from the scene ¬¬— were you planning to wait for a bus? He is in jail now, with bail set at $500,000, charged with robbery and assault. A public defender will do her best to make a case for leniency — maybe he had a poor relationship with his father, maybe low self-esteem, poor reasoning skills, but how do you defend outright stupidity? The man is destroying the bank-robber mystique: John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde would be embarrassed to be associated with him. If you’re considering larceny, my dear reader, stop and think this through. Cellphone towers can track your whereabouts and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. Twenty-eight grand is poor compensation for three years in prison. You can do much better by setting yourself up as an advocate for the math challenged and bringing a lawsuit against Apple and Microsoft for writing instruction manuals that make you feel unwelcome and marginalized. They are practicing normaphobia and the letttter tt keeps repeattting on your laptop and itt’s causing you menttal disttress and you can’tt fix ittt. Ask for a million and hope for tttttttwo hundred grand. Have a nice day and keep warm.  
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

February 8, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO

Kansas City, MO

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

February 9, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Gillioz Theatre, Springfield, MO

Springfield, MO

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

February 10, 2023

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Orpheum Theatre, Wichita, KS

Wichita, KS

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

February 11, 2023

Saturday

7:00 p.m.

Bowlus Fine Arts Center, Iola, KS

Iola, KS

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

February 22, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

The Parker, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL (rescheduled date from Dec 2022)

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

February 23, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN

Maryville, TN

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

February 24, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Grand Theatre, Frankfort, KY

Frankfort, KY

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

March 2, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Fargo Theater, Fargo, ND

Fargo, ND

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Fargo, ND for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

March 3, 2023

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Orpheum Theater, Sioux Falls, SD

Sioux Falls, SD

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Sioux Falls, SD for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

March 4, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Admiral Theater, Omaha, NE

Omaha, NE

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Omaha, NE for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, February 5, 2023

The American novelist, poet, and painter William S. Burroughs was born on this day in 1914.Burroughs is best known for his third novel, “Naked Lunch.” On writing, he said: “The only way I can write narrative is to get right outside my body and experience it. This can be exhausting and at times dangerous. One cannot be sure of redemption.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, February 4, 2023

It’s the birthday of writer, activist, and feminist Betty Friedan (1921), who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Feminine Mystique”, which explored the unhappy lives of American housewives and spurred the second wave of feminism in the United States during the 1960s.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, February 3, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, February 3, 2023

Today is the birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. After becoming a doctor, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, February 2, 2023

“The artist, like the God of the Creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” — James Joyce, born on this day in Dublin, 1882.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Today is the birthday of Langston Hughes, born in 1902 on this day in Missouri under the name James Mercer Langston Hughes. Hughes became a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance, a group of African-American artists and writers in Harlem, New York. His books include “Fine Clothes to the Jew”, “Not Without Laughter”, and “The Ways of White Folks.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Today is the birthday of Norman Mailer (1923). His first novel, “The Naked and the Dead”, it became the definitive literary novel about World War II, and made Norman Mailer famous at the age of 25. He went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes: for “The Armies of the Night” and for his nonfiction novel “The Executioner’s Song”.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, January 30, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, January 30, 2023

It is the birthday of historian Barbara Tuchman, born in New York City on this day in 1912. She wrote “The Guns of August”, a study of the events that led to the outbreak of World War I. She said, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

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Writing

Even old people need to explore new realms

I’m an American, I like to believe that nobody but nobody is beyond the reach of friendship and understanding, not even North Koreans or former felons or the creators of complex security systems that have driven me to the brink of madness, trying to remember the password for my computer and then having to replace the password and confirm my identity by typing in a six-numeral code sent to me on my cellphone whose password I now can’t remember either.

I don’t have top-secret documents stored in the phone or in the laptop. I have a lot of appeals for donations from Democratic politicians and lefty organizations such as Citizens United for Diversity & Inclusivity In American Humor (CUDIAH), none of which needs to be kept from prying eyes. I’m a Democrat. So what? I wish I had a friend in the password biz who could say, “Oh, passwords went out of usage long ago, nobody does that anymore, you just need a simple voice-recognition system that eliminates the need for passwords.” My current friends are all liberal-arts grads who know nothing about this stuff. Do you get my drift?

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The beauty of a bitterly cold Sunday, 8 a. m.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

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Picture in a Frame (July 2022)

The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
Ever since I put your picture in a frame

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What I did when you were asleep

I just heard the story of the professor who refused to have “(he, him, his)” after his name on correspondence and his chairman who said, “You must. It’s policy.” And the professor said, “I don’t care. I won’t.” I understand that the policy police haven’t been called yet to haul him away for genderphobia and I salute him for resisting: the policy has no purpose, it’s about appearances.

Here is one more good reason to avoid a career in Academia. I write “(me/us/hers)” after my name and nobody can tell me otherwise. This is America, not Argentina. When I walk into the clinic and a sign says “Masks required,” I put one on, because there is science behind it. I go to the public library and turn my phone off out of simple consideration for the readers and writers at my table.

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I am giving up anger, so should you

The apartment across the hall from where we’re staying in Minneapolis is undergoing extensive renovation, walls being moved, floors torn up, and every day last week the noise from there was seismic, volcanic, like they were throwing pickup trucks into a giant grinder, and when I walked out of our place and saw a workman I asked him how long this racket would continue and I used, as a modifier to “racket,” a word not seen in your family newspaper, not yet, God help us, though I’ve heard it used by small children in New York attending schools named for saints. Kids grow up faster in New York.

I felt bad about my cursing. I still do. I am trying to give up anger. It’s poisonous and it has no effect other than to make the angerer feel bad and perhaps do something truly stupid. You sit in a traffic jam yelling at other drivers and where does it get you? You read about Kevin McCarthy online and in your fury you hurl your laptop out the window and how does this change anything? (I didn’t do that, only considered it.)

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The Band Played On (Nov 26, 2022)

I’ll always remember the day I planned
Thanksgiving with the Coffee Club Band
Heather was there, Rich, Christine and Rob
The horns and reeds signed up for the job
They ate the turkey down to the bone
Drank every bottle of Cote du Rhone
They stayed for pie and wouldn’t go away
Got out their instruments and started to play
I cleared my throat, I said, “Well, it’s late,”
I said, “Thanks for coming, it sure was great.”
I cleared the table and I swept the floor
I turned out the lights and I opened the door
And I pointed to the sidewalk and the lawn
And the band played on.

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Why I am in Minnesota, if you wish to know

We came back to Minneapolis to see snow on the ground, there being none in Manhattan yet, and to drive around the old neighborhood where I lived when I was broke. It was 1969, I’d quit a comfy job at the U so I could write a novel and become famous. I had an infant son and he and my wife and I lived there for several months, then the money ran out. She suggested we live in her parents’ basement and instead I applied for an early-morning shift at KSJR at St. John’s University and Mr. Kling hired me. I was the only applicant, I discovered later. That shift led to “A Prairie Home Companion” and forty-two years of amusing myself on radio. So when I drive by that house, I see an enormous canyon between what might have happened and what actually did, and I say a little prayer of gratitude.

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A night at the opera, she and I

My sweetie and I went to the opera “Fedora” at the Met last Saturday — she loves opera and I love her so it was a deal, though she blanched at the price of tickets — “We could fly back to Minnesota for the price of two seats on the main floor,” she exclaimed. “But the flight attendants wouldn’t be singing,” I said. “And if they did, we’d want them to stop. Hang the expense.”

So we went. I was proud of ordering the seats on my cellphone and saving them in email, a first for me. I’ve always used paper ducats. I am 80. I am one of the 2 percent of Americans who know what the word “ducat” means. (It’s pronounced “duck it,” my children, in case you’re curious.) So it was exciting crossing the plaza of Lincoln Center, cellphone in hand, wondering as we entered the opera house if, when I clicked on my email, the ticket code would appear or would we be thrown bodily out onto the street.

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GUY NOIR – St. Louis

HM (SING): The winter solstice is one week away
And here he sits in Jimmy’s bar,
Wondering where he should spend Christmas Day,
It’s him……Guy Noir.

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Father Time advises a brown-eyed girl

I had a good conversation Saturday with a college student named Emily, a rare pleasure for an old man like me, most of my social life is spent with geriatrics eager to talk about their most recent hip replacement, but Emily talked about her ambition to go to law school and to devote herself to the issue of prison reform.

A bright articulate idealist from a good family who entertains noble ambitions that nobody in my age group would consider for two minutes; we’re done with nobility ¬¬¬— when we were her age we sang that deep in our hearts we believed that we would overcome, but instead we got good jobs and hung out with cool people and were overcome by piles of stuff we couldn’t bear to part with and now we just hope not to fall down in the street and bang our noggin against a curb and lie there gaga and be hauled away by EMTs who’ll never realize what an illustrious person we used to be and not this gibbering mess on the gurney. And we’re hoping to get a decent obit even though our illustriousness ended when most obit writers were in the third grade. The surest way to get a great obit is to be in the arts and die before 40 and it’s too late for that.

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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. 

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