The Writer’s Almanac for July 4, 2019


Two Women Swimming in Maine
by Sue Ellen Thompson

The breast stroke must have been
a woman’s invention, its sweet economy
of motion, the mechanism out of sight

and nothing to disturb the water’s surface calm
but the head in its diurnal bob
from sleep to wakefulness. We’re swimming,

naked, in an element more solid
than liquid, of a color so distinct
from any other green I’ve known

I won’t let myself turn back
until I’ve named it. With our arms,
we part and then embrace

the tide that swells the narrow cove
at dawn and leaves it, six hours later,
simmering in clam-muck.

There’s the grassy point where,
eighteen years ago, I brought my college boyfriend
long before he was your husband;

where we left him shivering on the beach
to swim in those miraculous bikinis
we’d bought in Damariscotta––

stuffed in plastic tubes like wands,
transparent in the water. Now our skin
repeats this magic, vanishing

in the green opacity a foot below the surface.
If I were inclined to break
this gem-like silence,

I might confess I never loved him
the way you did. And you might say
that I’d become too much the poet,

stroking out instinctively to gain some distance.
Who would have thought that you and I,
of all our friends, would swim

the epidermis, eighteen summers trailing
in our wake? But if you’re right
about me, that explains

why we can share the swimmer’s cadence:
Because it’s given me the words to frame
our common element, like jade illumined from below.

 

“Two Women Swimming in Maine” by Sue Ellen Thompson from The Leaving. © Autumn House Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The document was approved and signed on July 2, and was formally adopted on July 4. John Adams always felt that the Second of July was America’s true birthday, and he refused to appear at Fourth of July celebrations for the rest of his life in protest.


Today is the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (books by this author), born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He married Sophia Peabody in 1842, and soon after their wedding, Hawthorne wrote to his sister, “We are as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point.”

When he lost his job at the Salem Custom House, Sophia surprised him with money she’d put away out of her household allowance just so he could write a book. And he did: The Scarlet Letter (1850), about Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman who bears a child out of wedlock and must wear a red letter “A” for adultery as her punishment.


Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was first published on this date in 1855 (books by this author). The first edition consisted of 12 poems and was published anonymously. Whitman helped set the type himself. He kept adding to the collection and, eight editions and 36 years later, the final “death-bed edition” contained almost 400 poems. The first edition received several glowing — and anonymous — reviews in New York newspapers. Most of them were written by Whitman himself. One such review read, “An American bard at last!” But there were legitimate reviews too; one by popular columnist Fanny Fern called the collection daring and fresh. Emerson felt it was “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed.” But not everyone loved it; many called it filthy, disgusting, or repulsive, and John Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy into the fire.


It was on this date in 1931at the Kensington Registry Office in London, that James Joyce and Nora Barnacle were wed, after living together for 26 years (books by this author). They had had their first date in 1904, and had only been dating a few months when Joyce decided that he wanted to leave Ireland to live in Europe. He couldn’t face going without her, so even though he had only tenuous prospects, he plucked up the courage to ask her to come along. To his amazement, she agreed. The next night, he wrote to her, “The fact that you can choose to stand beside me in this way in my hazardous life fills me with great pride and joy.” They lived all over Europe, had two children, and were usually broke — until Joyce published Ulysses in 1922. It was a financial success, and Joyce wanted to make sure that Nora and their children could inherit the royalties, so they finally tied the knot.

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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 […]

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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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).

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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.”

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

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“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)

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A Prairie Home Companion: June 12, 2004

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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