The Writer’s Almanac for February 16, 2019


Shame
by Kenneth Ronkowitz

Here in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart,
I use the rosary beads to count the minutes.
How many times will they pass through my fingers
before we can leave?
Suddenly, at the top of the sky blue dome
amidst painted clouds,
a sparrow beats its wings
at a stained glass window.
All the windows are closed.
How did it enter?
Its wings touch the red glass in disbelief.
The people who looked up,
now stare down in shame.
The priest does not seem to know it is there.
But I cannot take my eyes from it.
My fingers work the beads,
prayers flying through my head
as fast as my heart is beating,
birdlike,
trapped within me,
some shame –
because I know I cannot free him
because I know I brought him here.

“Shame” by Kenneth Ronkowitz. Used with permission of the author.


It’s the birthday of Henry Adams, (books by this author) born in Boston (1838). He wrote a nine-volume History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison and biographies of George Cabot Lodge and Albert Gallatin. But he is best known for his autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams.

He wrote about Robert E. Lee, “I disagree with my brother Charles and Theodore Roosevelt. I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. These facts have nothing to do with the case and should not have been allowed to interfere with just penalties. It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the world.”


It’s the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, (books by this author) born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). He grew up across the street from the writer Eudora Welty.

When he was eight, his father had a heart attack, and he died from a second heart attack when Richard was 16. For much of his childhood, Ford went back and forth between Mississippi and Little Rock, Arkansas, where his grandmother lived with her second husband, a former prizefighter, and ran a hotel. Ford said, “I did everything in the hotel. I worked in it and I played in it. A lot of things go on in great big hotels, behind closed doors, and I saw behind those doors.”

After high school, he went to Michigan State University to study hotel management and then switched to English. After college, he tried to work for the Arkansas State Police, but he was rejected. Then he got discharged from the Marines because he had hepatitis. He tried law school — his plan was to be a lawyer for the Marine Corps, and then work for the FBI — but he didn’t like it, and he dropped out. Unsure of what to do next, he decided to give writing a try.

His first novel was A Piece of My Heart (1976) and then published The Sportswriter (1986), the first of his trilogy about Frank Bascombe, a novelist-turned-sportswriter-turned-realtor from New Jersey.

Ford did a book signing for The Sportswriter at Lemuria Books in Jackson, and not many people turned up besides some of his old neighbors. He said: “Suddenly I looked up and there was Eudora. She’d driven over to the bookstore. She had a deep voice — and I’m making her sound more imperious than she was; she was very sweet — but she said, ‘Well, I just had to come pay my respects.'” Ford and Welty became good friends, and when Welty died in 2001, at the age of 92, Ford was a pallbearer at her funeral. He was also her literary executor.


It was on this day in 1978 that social networking got its start when the first public, dial-up Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS) went online in Chicago, Illinois. In those days, the Internet was in its infancy, not available to most computer users. Two computer hobbyists, Ward Christiansen and Randy Seuss, got the idea to create a virtual message board where CBBS members could dial into the system using a telephone modem and post notes to each other in the same way a family might communicate by sticking messages to a corkboard using pushpins. It was the beginning of social networking.


On this date in 1937, Wallace Carothers and DuPont Chemical Company were granted a patent for the synthetic polymer called nylon.

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Don't know what's wrong, but it's okay

I am enjoying being an old man and I wonder why I didn’t get here sooner. There are benefits to being 79 that I would’ve appreciated in my late thirties. I look at the stories on the front page of the paper and I think, “Not My Problem” and the latest NMP is the shortage of goods due to shipping backlogs, freighters lined up for miles waiting to unload, docks piled high with containers, factory production slowed due to lack of parts coming from China, building projects halted, dire situations, workers idle, confusion, dismay — and here we sit, Madame and I, with the opposite problem, too much stuff, need to give it away.

We have about twenty big dinner plates and twenty small plates and when was the last time we sat eighteen guests down to dinner in this little apartment? Not since Jesus was in the third grade. I have eight suits in my closet: when did I last get dressed up? The number of unread books on our shelves would sink a pontoon boat. And why the whiskey glasses? Nobody in this household drinks whiskey. Neither do our guests, they’re all left-wing liberals and whiskey, in case you didn’t know it, has become politicized and is now reserved for patriots who are out to Stop The Steal. I wish they’d steal our whiskey glasses.

Two trillionaires, Bezos and Musk, are trying to fly into outer space but you can get away from Earth quite cheaply simply by heading for 80 and 85 when a person starts to feel himself floating in the clouds, unconcerned with so much of what’s going on, such as those hundreds of cars moving at 5 mph down the distant freeway at 7:30 a.m., honking, angry — what is going on with those people? What’s all the fuss about?

The controversy in Nashville over the need for country music to create spaces of healing and equity for people of all identities and to fight oppression of minority points of view, which sprang up after the first nonbinary musicians were featured on the Grand Ole Opry, was interesting but Not My Problem. I love the songs I love and for me country music hit a peak with Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin On Your Mind),” which was Loretta’s statement of empowerment and anti-oppression in hopes of changing lives and challenging patterns of discrimination so as to bring about evolution of behavior and clearly stating a moral imperative in order to liberate herself from systems of oppression to bring about a sense of authentic belonging and promoting values of mutual respect as an effective tool for social justice rather than perpetuate a structure of male privilege in daily life and mitigate its effects.

The two nonbinary singers, Morgan Newton and Oliver Penn, are demanding that Nashville issue a mission statement pledging to engage in anti-oppressive and inclusivistic musical storytelling that fights intolerance and cultural appropriation, but the way to change the world isn’t to demand change, it’s to write a terrific song as Loretta did. They say that Waylon Jennings’s “Rainy Day Woman” tolerates a structure of male privilege, and maybe it does, but it’s a great song. You disagree, then go write a better one. The Beatles’ first big hit, “Please Please Me,” was exclusionary and disempowering and built on a structure of exploitation, but their harmonies on the line “Come on, come on, come on, come on” made the song irresistible. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” never considered whether the hand, which presumably belonged to a woman, wanted to be held and the line “And when I touch you I feel happy inside” doesn’t consider whether she (or them or it) feels happy inside. You might be offended by the male privilege that’s made all too clear but the song kept running through your head, including the falsetto “OOOOO” and that’s the power of it.

Anyway, it’s an unjust and inequal and often oppressive world out there, and mission statements come flying like autumn leaves, and nonbinary and non-triplicate and quasi-quadrennials struggle for their share of the sunlight, and in Norway people are killing each other with bow and arrow, and the anger of those drivers on the freeway is almost palpable, and I feel some sympathy for all of the troubled, but only some, not a vast amount. I’m 79 and it’s Not My Problem, people. My problem is this computer, which has a bad habit of suddenly going blank and I’ve taken it to be fixed and they told me confiden

If you love your work, be sure not to finish it

The life of a writer is a wild adventure you wouldn’t imagine simply by looking at the lonely figure in the black cloak sitting hunched in her/his niche in the cloister, scratching corrections onto the parchment with a feathered quill pen, but it’s true and someone really ought to write about this. At the moment, I am looking at a galley of a new book of mine as sent by a graphic designer named David and I am stunned by the elegance of it, which makes my own words seem almost of classical quality, which makes me want to revise the work to bring it up to the quality of the design, meanwhile my crew of overseers is firing off memos insisting the book be finished by Friday. This is what I’m up against: David’s graphic artistry has shown me how wonderful my work almost is while editors are banging on the door of my cell, threatening to withhold food until I turn the work over to them. It’s ugly.

The book is set in a small town in Minnesota and I feel that a good street fight, an insurrection of farmers versus townsfolk, with a lot of hacking and clubbing and shouting and cursing, would add some interest and maybe also a good gas explosion. I’ve written many novels and never put a major explosion in one and it’s appealing to me now, the chance to have people I dislike file into a building and then blow it up. Terrorists do this all the time, so why not novelists?

It occurs to me, too, that my previous graphic designers were named Butch, Buddy, and Misty, and their surnames ended with -sen or -quist, and David’s name ends with a vowel, same as Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Fra Angelico, and my literary reputation has been hampered by poor page design and bad taste in fonts. I think that with the addition of an insurrection and a gas explosion I could break out of my reputation for Midwestern nostalgia and be taken seriously by critics for the Times and Post who majored in women’s studies at Bryn Mawr and Smith, especially if the old white reactionaries who stage the insurrection are the ones who file into the building that minutes later goes up in a cloud of flame and smoke, but meanwhile I’m in the hands of deadline enforcement officers who want me to stop and hand over the goods.

Did Dostoevsky work under these conditions? James Joyce? Toni Morrison?

The real problem, however, is not only artistic but also my fear of finishing the book and dreading the onset of leisure time, which, in old age, only leads in one direction, brooding, mental deterioration, half-pound cheeseburgers, and watching MSNBC and Rachel Maddow, which leads to despair for the republic. I’ve spent the past year ensconced in fiction and was very happy most of the time. (I’ve never heard Rachel Maddow use the word “ensconced,” by the way. She might say “hopelessly trapped” or “barricaded” but “ensconced” is too comfy for her and she is not a creature of comfort.)

When the enforcers take possession of my hard drive and publish the novel, minus the clubbing and hacking and the gas explosion, I plan to take charge of my life and announce to my wife, who formerly was in charge of it, “My darling, I’m done with Manhattan. We’ve owned this apartment for twenty years and real estate values are skyrocketing and let’s clean up and move to Portugal.”

We spent a week in Portugal a couple years ago for her nephew’s wedding and we loved it. They are a sensible people, fishermen, farmers, sailors, explorers. When I told the nephew how I admired his wife’s ability to adapt to American culture and make friends and find her way around, he said, “Well, she’s Portuguese. She passes for Parisian but she’s her parents’ daughter.” Her father Antonio is an olive rancher and all-around handyman who stayed up all night dancing at the wedding and then drove us around the olive plantation showing off his trees and talking a blue streak in Portuguese. He is a happy man and keeps busy managing twenty or so unfinished projects. He’s a few years younger than I but he’s my model. I want to settle in his village and go to work writing unfinished novels.

A writer doesn’t need literary prizes to be happy, happiness lies in the work itself, sitting down in the niche with the quill pen and adding a few more curlicues. I am ensconced in my work. I don’t want to lose it and that means postponing publication as long as possible. They don’t teach this to MFA students but they should.

A few beams of light on our current situation

“Goodness gracious” was about as close as my mother came to actual profanity, that and “Oh fudge,” and now that our daily life is showered with profanity and obscenity, it is no more shocking than dog barks, whereas the words “Goodness gracious” still have (for me) a bite to them, and I can feel my mother’s dismay, which now I feel, hearing about the tidal wave of political narcissism opposed to the idea of social responsibility — Senator Graham was booed and harassed the other day by constituents when he suggested they consider getting vaccinated against COVID — people who deny that the state has a right to mandate vaccination or mask-wearing as a public health measure or enforce speed limits or restrain the sale of weapons meant for combat or the responsibility of parents to send their kids to school, and weird ideas that are being preached from pulpits by ministers who don’t realize that their own people are dying of COVID and in marginal states the plague may be delivering the 2022 elections to us socialists. To raging narcissism, I say, “Oh fudge.”

Nonetheless, I am happy. October has that effect on me and it’s heightened by sunny days and the fact that the suffering of us Minnesota Twins fans is at an end as we go into the postseason and last week we had the pleasure of seeing the plutocrat Yanks squashed by Boston, players who are up in Mark Zuckerberg’s pay bracket and who couldn’t buy a hit or even draw a walk. I am not proud of taking pleasure in the suffering of multimillionaires but it’s a long-standing American tradition. The Yankees’ star right fielder Aaron Judge said, “To me, it’s black and white. Either you win or lose. We lost.” Which, for a guy who could afford to hire a writer, or content provider, is not a memorable line, not even in the ballpark. Casey Stengel who earned a tiny fraction of Judge’s salary said, while managing the Mets, “You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, ‘Can’t anybody here play this game?’” A great line and I’ve thought of it often in my life.

I thought of it a few hours before the game when I tried to sign up for ESPN so I could watch it and I had to use the round clicker on the remote to write. I am a guy from the Three Network era back just after the Civil War when ABC, CBS, or NBC would’ve carried the game and all I had to do was open a bottle of beer, but now I have to manipulate this weird device and after three failed attempts I called my wife on FaceTime and we struggled to get it done and there was some yelling but the marriage survived and I got to see the pinstripe guys slump off the field while the Red Sox danced and whooped and the fans were delirious in the Fenway stands, though surely they knew that this team will likely break their hearts as it has so often in the past.

“Can’t anybody here play this game?” comes to mind when I read about Congress and the debt ceiling hassle and the Republicans’ aversion to talking about climate change even as the reality of it is rather clear and auto manufacturers are planning for electric car production, but Republicans are satisfied with a policy of denial. This is not intelligent but they believe it’s a winning strategy. Goodness gracious. Who are these people? What game are we playing?

With my team packed up and gone home, I’m free to spend October with a light heart. This is the advantage of defeat: the dreadful anticipation of it is over, you got skunked, and you discover defeat is a sort of liberation. But Washington is another matter. The South lost the Civil War but went on to win the 20th century and today we’re living in a confederacy. We have a Confederate Supreme Court and soon will likely have a Confederate Congress. My mother was of a Depression generation that didn’t tolerate narcissism but here we are. But as Casey almost said, “The Democrats have shown me more ways to lose than I ever knew existed. They say there’s always hope, but sometimes that doesn’t always work. But never make bad predictions especially about the future.”

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

October 20, 2021

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA

Alexandria, VA

Garrison Keillor Tonight with opener Debi Smith comes to The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA for an Evening of poetry, Sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. Tickets $45.00.

November 4, 2021

Thursday

12:00 p.m.

Carrollton Cultural Arts Center (Lobby), Carrollton, GA

Carrollton, GA Luncheon

Garrison Keillor will join guests for a casual Luncheon in the Lobby of the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center, where he will talk about how it all began and where he thinks he is going. Tickets: $45

November 5, 2021

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Carrollton Cultural Arts Center, Carrollton, GA

Carrollton, GA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. Tickets $30 reserved/ $10 children

buy tickets

November 11, 2021

Thursday

7:00 PM

The Wayne Theatre, Waynesboro, VA

Waynesboro, VA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (Robin & Linda Williams, Prudence Johnson with Dan Chouinard) comes to the Waynes Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:00PM $55 reserved

buy tickets

November 12, 2021

Friday

7:30 p.m.

High Point Theatre, High Point, NC

High Point, NC

Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (Robin & Linda Williams, Prudence Johnson with Dan Chouinard) comes to the High Point Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. Tickets $60-$40

buy tickets

December 10, 2021

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Bridge View Center, Ottumwa, IA

Ottumwa, IA

Dec 10 in Ottumwa Iowa Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

December 11, 2021

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL

Joliet, IL

Dec 11 in Joliet, IL Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

December 12, 2021

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Holland Civic Center, Holland, MI

Holland, MI

Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

March 4, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

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

March 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

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

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Writing

Don’t know what’s wrong, but it’s okay

I am enjoying being an old man and I wonder why I didn’t get here sooner. There are benefits to being 79 that I would’ve appreciated in my late thirties. I look at the stories on the front page of the paper and I think, “Not My Problem” and the latest NMP is the shortage of goods due to shipping backlogs, freighters lined up for miles waiting to unload, docks piled high with containers, factory production slowed due to lack of parts coming from China, building projects halted, dire situations, workers idle, confusion, dismay — and here we sit, Madame and I, with the opposite problem, too much stuff, need to give it away.

We have about twenty big dinner plates and twenty small plates and when was the last time we sat eighteen guests down to dinner in this little apartment? Not since Jesus was in the third grade. I have eight suits in my closet: when did I last get dressed up? The number of unread books on our shelves would sink a pontoon boat. And why the whiskey glasses? Nobody in this household drinks whiskey. Neither do our guests, they’re all left-wing liberals and whiskey, in case you didn’t know it, has become politicized and is now reserved for patriots who are out to Stop The Steal. I wish they’d steal our whiskey glasses.

Read More

If you love your work, be sure not to finish it

 The life of a writer is a wild adventure you wouldn’t imagine simply by looking at the lonely figure in the black cloak sitting hunched in her/his niche in the cloister, scratching corrections onto the parchment with a feathered quill pen, but it’s true and someone really ought to write about this. At the moment, I am looking at a galley of a new book of mine as sent by a graphic designer named David and I am stunned by the elegance of it, which makes my own words seem almost of classical quality, which makes me want to revise the work to bring it up to the quality of the design, meanwhile my crew of overseers is firing off memos insisting the book be finished by Friday. This is what I’m up against: David’s graphic artistry has shown me how wonderful my work almost is while editors are banging on the door of my cell, threatening to withhold food until I turn the work over to them. It’s ugly.

The book is set in a small town in Minnesota and I feel that a good street fight, an insurrection of farmers versus townsfolk, with a lot of hacking and clubbing and shouting and cursing, would add some interest and maybe also a good gas explosion. I’ve written many novels and never put a major explosion in one and it’s appealing to me now, the chance to have people I dislike file into a building and then blow it up. Terrorists do this all the time, so why not novelists?

Read More

A few beams of light on our current situation

“Goodness gracious” was about as close as my mother came to actual profanity, that and “Oh fudge,” and now that our daily life is showered with profanity and obscenity, it is no more shocking than dog barks, whereas the words “Goodness gracious” still have (for me) a bite to them, and I can feel my mother’s dismay, which now I feel, hearing about the tidal wave of political narcissism opposed to the idea of social responsibility — Senator Graham was booed and harassed the other day by constituents when he suggested they consider getting vaccinated against COVID — people who deny that the state has a right to mandate vaccination or mask-wearing as a public health measure or enforce speed limits or restrain the sale of weapons meant for combat or the responsibility of parents to send their kids to school, and weird ideas that are being preached from pulpits by ministers who don’t realize that their own people are dying of COVID and in marginal states the plague may be delivering the 2022 elections to us socialists. To raging narcissism, I say, “Oh fudge.”

Read More

Lonely guy seeks old café and three buddies

I am an orphan, which is not so unusual for a man of 79, and like everyone else I know, I work out of my own home and at the moment I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of Cheerios beside the laptop and a cup of coffee (black). I have no office anymore. I’ve had offices, not cubicles but offices with doors and a window, sometimes a credenza, since I was 22 years old. I miss them.

If someone opens a Museum of the American Office, I volunteer to be a docent and I’ll show them around the office of fifty years ago with the mimeograph machine, the manual typewriter, and the big telephone with the long curly cord that went into the wall. There was no copier, we used carbon paper. Someone knocked on the door and I hid my copy of Portnoy’s Complaint in the top drawer and a woman poked her head in and said, “The meeting is about to begin.”

That’s what I miss, the meeting. They were like little morality plays, in which people assumed allegorical roles, Dreamers, Realists, Satirists and Strategists, and the outcome was usually to maintain inertia but they were entertaining. I was a satirist in my early years and then suddenly I became the boss and I was surrounded by realists, and at the end of my office career, I became a dreamer and the two women employees listened and took turns being the assassin who points out the deadly reality so not much happened but I was okay with that. The pleasure was in the meeting itself.

Read More

On Tuesday it all came down at once

The world is turning wondrous again, maples and ash and goldenrod turning golden Van Gogh colors and I got into a weepy mood on Tuesday, which is unusual for me, a man with dry eyes, but I was overwhelmed by everything happening at once, thinking of an old friend and sweet singer who’d died, and on Tuesday a reunion of my Anoka high school class (1960), feeling kinship to old rivals and antagonists but now we’re all in the same boat, a sinking ship. The names of some of our dead were mentioned, including Henry Hill Jr., a star athlete and a good guy who enlisted in the Army and made first lieutenant and was killed in action in Quang Ngai province in 1968, leading his unit of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division.

The woman who spoke of Henry remembered a few lines of a song I wrote about him, “His picture’s on the piano in a silver frame and his family weeps if you speak his name. In ’68 he went off to the war and now he’s forever 24.”

Read More

Last night I went to sleep by my girl

My friend Lynn, a personal trainer, has given me a list of twelve useful exercises to strengthen the core muscles and improve the sense of balance and I’ve been thinking about doing them, meanwhile I’ve been concerned with other matters, such as which came first, the can or the can opener. This question has no relevance to my life or yours and yet — what is the relevance of relevance at this point in my life? I need questions to answer, otherwise I lie in bed at night with a song repeating in my head, such as “Please Please Me” or “When They Ring Those Golden Bells,” both of them infectious. So the question of can openers is how I spare myself from thinking “Last night I said these words to my girl.”

The answers to all of life’s questions are on the internet and this is why I don’t get out and walk. Things I might’ve had to walk to the library to find out are in my computer on my desk. So here I am. An English merchant named Peter Durand invented the can around 1800, which made it possible to preserve food aboard ships for long voyages. People used knives or other sharp instruments to open them until 1858 when the can opener was patented. This probably saved a great many sailors from stabbing themselves in the hand, which, in those primitive times, probably meant serious infections from bacteria on knives also used to gut fish and shuck oysters. Some galley crew, opening cans, probably lost a hand to a fish-borne disease and replaced it with a hook and thereby became pirates and wound up being hanged. Mothers grieved for them back in Yorkshire and Liverpool. Then the can opener came along and piracy went into decline, shiploads of immigrants sailed unmolested to our shores, the Industrial Age began, slaves were emancipated, the automobile was invented, radio came along, and the 20th century, without people having to jab holes in cylindrical containers.

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The story of my life: revised version

I’ve bought many copies of Mary Oliver’s poems, Devotions, and on Friday I gave away the last so now I’m ordering more. I gave it to a friend whose description of brushing his dogs’ teeth reminded me of Oliver’s description of a grasshopper sitting in her hand and eating sugar, the jaws moving side to side, not up and down.

He said he uses a finger pad with bristles and a beef-flavored toothpaste and the dogs tolerate it well and the brushing spares them dental miseries so it made sense. Oliver carefully describes the grasshopper chewing and washing its face and flying away and then —

Read More

Women: don’t read this, for men only

Maybe it’s just me but I have a nagging feeling that my gender, which once was fairly successful — Jonas Salk, Saul Bellow, Lowell Thomas, Tom Jones, the list goes on — is sagging and sinking, uncertain about changing norms of behavior, and we don’t whoop and holler the way we used to, and what this predicts for our species is not good. Geneticists are talking about the need to establish testosterone banks so that future males will be able to produce sperm and deliver it where needed, never mind earning a living or playing ice hockey.

Women, who have always been in charge of social life, are now openly wielding power, outlining goals and purposes, establishing spending limits, deciding what color the sheets and tablecloths should be. Men’s clubs like the Masons and Elk and Moose are a faint shadow of themselves except perhaps in parts of South Dakota while women are reforming the culture to their liking, and in my men’s group, the WBA (Wounded Buffalo Assn.), we discuss how, when we’re in a mixed group, women do most of the talking and men toss in the occasional nod or shrug or “I suppose so.” Back in olden times, women occupied the kitchen and talked about children, neighbors, ancestors, people at church, and men occupied the living room and talked about ideology. Now the two have merged and people are vastly more interesting than ideology, so men sit silent, dehorsed.

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A walk in the park on a historic day

Saturday morning, walking around south Minneapolis, a neighborhood where, back in my youth, when your elders start neglecting their lawn, you might move them out of the bungalow and plant them here in a one-BR apt. until they can no longer climb stairs and then there’d be a family meeting — shoot them? Or plunk them in the nursing home? — and off to Happy Acres they go, worn out since elliptical machines didn’t exist back then and there were no trainers except animal trainers.

And now it’s a neighborhood of 21-year-olds as you can see from the corner grocery, which is all bags of snacks and soda pop and frozen pizzas. Youth can survive on silage, if necessary. Young women walk their dogs at 8 a.m. and a man sleeps on a bus stop bench, a suitcase beside him. The apartment buildings all post For Rent signs, some offer deals, some have roommates waiting.

I walk around, awestruck at the courage of the young. You come to the city from Aitkin or Brainerd or Cottonwood and either you get a job waiting on table and maybe salt away some dough or you go to school and rack up piles of debt, or maybe you do both and work 15-hour days and all in hopes of making a good life, whatever that might mean in your case.

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The story of my life, in 750 words

I was having a hard time falling asleep the other night because I’d thought of something that I was afraid of forgetting if I fell asleep, which was keeping me awake, not that it was the sort of timeless thing you see printed on coffee cups sold in bookstores, like “Hope is the thing with feathers” or the one Thoreau said about confidently pursuing your dreams, which now I forget the rest of.

Sleep is the great blessing of retirement, especially for someone like me — or is it “someone like myself”? I used to know this — someone who in his working years (so-called, in my case, because my work was talking and telling stories, no heavy lifting involved) — and I was crisscrossing time zones and going from EST to PST I’d be awake at 1 and 2 with a plane to catch at 7 so I could make it to a benefit in New York for Rich People Who Wish To Help Poor People Without Having To Be In Physical Contact With Them and I couldn’t sleep on planes because of a fear of dying in a plane crash and, having been brought up evangelical, I wanted to be awake for my death so I could quickly repent for any unforgiven sins and make sure I’d go to heaven and meet Grandma and Grandpa and not go to hell and spend eternity with Stalin and Hitler.

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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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