The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 14, 2022


The Months
by Linda Pastan

March
When the Earl King came
to steal away the child
in Goethe’s poem, the father said
don’t be afraid,
it’s just the wind…
As if it weren’t the wind
that blows away the tender
fragments of this world—
leftover leaves in the corners
of the garden, a Lenten Rose
that thought it safe
to bloom so early.

April
In the pastel blur
of the garden,
the cherry
and redbud
shake rain
from their delicate
shoulders, as petals
of pink
dogwood
wash down the ditches
in dreamlike
rivers of color.

May
Mayapple, daffodil,
hyacinth, lily,
and by the front
porch steps
every billowing
shade of purple
and lavender lilac,
my mother’s favorite flower,
sweet breath drifting through
the open windows:
perfume of memory-conduit
of spring.

 

Linda Pastan, “The Months” from The Last Uncle. © 2002 Linda Pastan, published by W.W. Norton and used by permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. (permissions@jvnla.com). (buy now)


Skylab was launched on this date in 1973. It was America’s first space station. It served as a solar observatory, a microgravity lab, a medical lab, an Earth-observation station, and a proving ground for new technology that enabled humans to survive in space: microgravity toilets, showers, and sleeping bags — among other necessities — were developed or perfected on Skylab.

Skylab was launched without a pilot or crew; its first crew rendezvoused with the space station on May 25. They spent 28 days in space, which broke the previous record for the duration of a space flight. Their record didn’t stand long, however; its second crew was in space for 59 days. Skylab’s third crew spent 84 days in orbit, and their record remained unbroken until a crew spent six months aboard the Russian space station Mir in the mid-1990s.

Everything the Skylab astronauts did as part of their daily routine was considered “data.”

Their day started at six in the morning when the three crewmembers would check for the day’s orders from Mission Control. Then they would use the bathroom, weigh themselves, and eat breakfast. They took turns at the daily science chores — including serving as the medical “guinea pig” to study the effects of space travel on the human body. The workday lasted until eight in the evening, and then they enjoyed a couple of hours of free time before their 10 p.m. bedtime. They often spent that leisure time just looking out the window, although once in a while they would devise their own informal experiments. Astronaut Jerry Carr, a member of the third crew, said, “It was such an interesting thing to turn loose a blob of water to see what you can do with it.” They recorded their little experiments and saved them to show American schoolchildren a little bit about what life in space was like.

The Skylab crews also had to contend with equipment malfunctions and unexpected repairs, and some of these required a spacewalk. Jack Lousma, a member of the second crew, described it at Skylab’s 40th-anniversary celebration, “From outside you can see the entire Earth in a three-dimensional perspective. You’re riding along on this ‘magic carpet.’ There’s no vibration, no sound, and a sunrise and sunset every hour and a half. You just want to stay out there.”

Skylab was occupied for just less than eight months. Its final crew returned to Earth in early February 1974, and left Skylab in its orbit. Jerry Carr said, “There was a certain small amount of sadness when we left, realizing we were going to be the last crew to inhabit the spacecraft. It had hung together beautifully for us, and we kind of hated to leave it. But, of course, we were also looking forward to going home.” After so long in space it took the astronauts a little while to adjust to life with gravity: they would often just drop things rather than setting them down, because they expected them to simply float away.

NASA expected Skylab to remain in orbit for the next ten years or so. But a high level of solar activity heated the Earth’s atmosphere and caused more drag on the space station than scientists had expected. They predicted that it would break apart and fall to Earth sometime in 1979. Skylab’s demise was a huge media event: people sold Skylab re-entry merchandise and took bets on when and where the first piece would hit the Earth. Two San Francisco newspapers offered competing prizes for the first piece of Skylab delivered to their offices. As it happened, most of Skylab’s remains landed on a sparsely populated region in western Australia or in the Indian Ocean. Seventeen-year-old Stan Thornton of the Australian town of Esperance collected the San Francisco Examiner’s prize for the first retrieved Skylab piece.

Skylab paved the way for the International Space Station, which was developed with the aid of Carr and his fellow crewmember Bill Pogue.


It’s the birthday of nature writer Hal Borland (books by this author), born in Sterling, Nebraska (1900). He wrote that he grew up:

[I]n those years when the Old West was passing and the New West was emerging. It was a time when we still heard echoes and already saw shadows, on moonlit nights when the coyotes yapped on the hilltops, and on hot summer afternoons when mirages shimmered, dust devils spun across the flats, and towering cumulus clouds sailed like galleons across the vast blueness of the sky. Echoes of remembrance of what men once did there, and visions of what they would do together.”

Hal’s grandfather was a blacksmith and his father a newspaperman. Hal followed in his father’s footsteps and moved all over the country working for local papers — he started out at his father’s paper in Flagler, Colorado, a town of 750 people, and he ended up at the New York Times in 1937. One day he submitted a piece about the English oak tree to the editorial page and it was accepted. After that his nature editorials were a staple in the Times. He published one every week and by the time he died in 1978 he had written 1,750 nature editorials — the last of them published the day before his death. Borland kept a New Yorker cartoon on his office wall showing a man brandishing a newspaper and shouting, “Here’s another of those crackpot editorials about the voices of frogs shattering the autumn stillness!”

Borland published quite a few books, too, including When the Legends Die (1963) and Sundial of the Seasons (1964).


On this day, the first group reading of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s radio play Under Milk Wood (1953) was staged at the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City (books by this author).

Thomas began writing radio plays in the 1940s to supplement his income. Under Milk Wood grew from a story he’d written for the BBC (1945) called “Quite Early one Morning” and was inspired by an early morning walk Thomas had taken in New Quay, Cardiganshire, in West Wales. On his walk he began imagining the voices of the townspeople. He determined to write what he called “a play for voices,” for the radio. Under Milk Wood is set in a small Welsh fishing town called Llareggub, which is “bugger all” spelled backward. The play spans one day and one night in a town filled with prostitutes, ghosts, drunkards, and bigamists like Polly Garter, Captain Cat, Organ Morgan, Mrs. Willy Nilly, and No Good Boyo. The title of the play refers to the forest that looms on a hill above town where villagers go for illicit sexual encounters. Dylan worked on the play for eight years.

When he arrived in New York for the reading he was still tinkering with the beginning and he didn’t have an end. He was also drinking and smoking heavily. Finally his literary agent locked him in a room until he finished the play, then painstakingly copied the new pages for the actors, jumped into a cab, and shoved the pages in the actors hands minutes before the curtain rose. Dylan himself performed two characters, that of “First Voice” and Reverend Eli Jenkins.

At the last minute someone decided to record the play and single microphone was placed on stage. This is the only known recording of Under Milk Wood with Thomas as part of the cast. Several months later Thomas fell into a coma from excessive drinking and died. Under Milk Wood was his last significant piece of writing.

The play was adapted for a film version starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter O’Toole (1972). It’s been produced as a ballet by the Independent Ballet of Wales (2008) and was the primary influence for the Kinks album We Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968).

In Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas wrote, “There’s the clip clop of horses on the sunhoneyed cobbles of the humming streets, hammering of horse-shoes, a gobble quack and cackle, tomtit twitter from the bird-ounced boughs, braying on the Donkey Dawn.”


On this day in 1607 the London Company explorers from England landed in what would become Jamestown, Virginia, the first English settlement in the New World. The colony lay on the banks of the James River, 60 miles from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.


It was on this day in 1804 that Captain Meriwether Lewis (books by this authorand Lieutenant William Clark set out from St. Louis, Missouri, on their overland expedition to the Pacific Coast and back. They were very different men. Clark was levelheaded and easy going. Lewis was romantic and ambitious and prone to depression. On the day they set out, William Clark wrote in his journal, “Rained the fore part of the day. … I Set out at 4 o Clock P.M., in the presence of many of the neighboring in habitants, and proceeded on under a jentle brease up the Missourie … a heavy rain this after-noon.” Meriwether Lewis wrote on the same day, “We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden. I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

 

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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In Garrison Keillor’s newest 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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Here're your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power. So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack. You and I, my dears, can walk freely through town with a clear conscience, enjoy the breeze in the trees and say hi to the cop on the corner. The Six cannot. The cop is not so friendly, imagining everybody carrying a loaded .45 and if he sees one of the six enablers, he might give them the finger, which so far is protected by the First Amendment. Don’t be disheartened. Deal with the problem. If you’re troubled by inflation, cut back on expenses. Don’t buy sparkling water. Fill up the glass with tap water and if you want bubbles, stick a straw in the water and blow. If you’re depressed by the state of things, skip the news and take a walk beside a large body of water and look at the stars and the moon. The newscaster will say, “Good evening” and then give you fifty-seven reasons why it’s not. Give yourself a break. The Gang of Six is heading for 1845 and I doubt they’ll get to Prohibition before they fade into the sunset and go down in the WWTT chapter of history (What Were They Thinking). The Six couldn’t find abortion mentioned in the Constitution so they dumped Roe but maybe when they go to their physician to deal with their gloominess, they’ll find a medical originalist with a bucket of leeches who’ll bleed them white and administer powerful purgatives until they’re considerably lighter, and thus they will regain their senses and so will we. Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.  

America is missing a holiday maybe

It’s over and gone, but every Midsummer Day I remember the dinner at Hanne and Ole’s farm in Denmark back in 1989 when fifty of us sat in a meadow at long tables with white cloths and good china for a feast of cold soup and salad and white wine, platters of lamb and potatoes, and dessert and coffee, and the Danish lady next to me speaking perfect schoolgirl English, and around ten p.m., as the sky turned dark, we traipsed down to the ocean shore and lit a bonfire and burned a straw witch and all the Danes sang from memory songs they’d known from childhood and we could see far away up the shore, other bonfires, other parties, other witches being burned.

We have no celebration like it in America. There’s no commercial motive behind Midsummer’s Day, no political rationale or religious, it’s about the glory of summer and friendship and the casting out of evil spirits. I was there as an outsider, and in celebration of the day they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The Danish lady had heard that I was an American author and she read a book of mine and talked about it, which, my being a self-effacing Midwesterner, made me uncomfortable but it was a kind gesture.

Maybe the Fourth could become that sort of celebration. We need some community parties that have a good feeling without a big message. The boomers went in for big music festivals, Woodstock and then the Grateful Dead concerts, thirty thousand people in tribal clothing, seriously stoned, listening to a stoned band on a distorted sound system vamping for twenty-five minutes on a song that was better at four and a half. The Dead concert was not about community, it was about who was not welcome, your parents, teachers, people over thirty.

I attended a strawberry fest once and that was a fine celebration. You pop a big ripe red strawberry in your mouth and you feel your meanness dissipate. That’s why strawberry-rhubarb pie is such a great innovation, combining sweetness and irony. It is a beautiful marriage and marriage, as we know, is the basis of community and the true test of character. The Deadheads were under the drug-induced illusion that they were lonely geniuses, but when old friends and neighbors gather to celebrate, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

Denmark is a nation of a dozen political parties so you knew there was plenty of stiff disagreement under the surface and, as in any group of people who know each other all too well, various old feuds and misunderstandings and interesting gossip, but they set it aside when the witch is carried in on her pole and consigned to the flames. Let go of the past, summer is here, live these brilliant days one by one, put regret and recrimination behind.

Marriage is a great test and some of us were allowed to retake it until we got it right. To make a life with your most knowledgeable critic is heroic, and the reward is a spacious happiness, no doubt about it. I have no objection to same-sex marriage but it strikes me as a compromise, whereas marrying someone from the other team is a bold move. My parents eloped and married in secret over the opposition of both families and this was a bond between them, they were in love to the very end, though they were as different as could be, a farm boy and a city girl, a stoic and a romantic. My mother loved comedians and laughed at Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and my dad didn’t understand comedy, it struck him as contrary to Scripture. She adored Christmas, he thought it was a pagan aberration, but they worked it out.

And now Jenny walks into the room and asks what I’m writing and she’s going to want me to read it to her and when I do, she’s going to tell me to take out the part about same-sex marriage, that it’ll hurt people’s feelings, but I’m not going to do it. Some of my best friends, et cetera, et cetera, and if you can’t kid your friends, then we have a problem. She and I have been together thirty years and she still mystifies me. We could make Columbus Day into Couples Day: marriage is a voyage into the unknown and when you get there you find out it’s not where you thought you were going, thank goodness.

A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

We come to her family’s old summer house and turn on the AC and I attend to my email, fifty deletions, four replies, and then I post on Facebook a comment on the benefits of being a cancelee in this cancel culture (you find out who your true friends are) that is read and liked by 494 persons. I like this. Back in my day, I could’ve written a letter to the editor of the morning paper about public shaming and friendship, and maybe it would’ve appeared four days later, and maybe two friends would’ve said, “I saw your letter to the editor.” But now, having written three sentences, I find out in a few hours that 494 persons have friendly feelings toward me. A gentle rain on the roof.

How many friends does a person need? Thousands? No, 494 makes me happy. My wife sits on the porch reading an e-book borrowed from the library and then she comes in to show me, on her iPhone, video of the family of foxes cavorting in the woods a hundred feet away. The FaceTiming continues. My wife loves this porch because she sat here with her grandfather and grandmother when she was a little girl. She and her siblings were parceled out singly to the old folks, each kid feeling special in turn. She was cherished on this porch, by the old folks and now again by me. A fox trots across the lawn. Saamiya speaks from India. A general blessedness is in the air.

Other people can dread the future persuasively, and God bless them, but I imagine a world in which people feel drawn together by digital democracy and find a humane commonality, in which life is made simpler in small crucial ways, and meanwhile medicine continues to take great leaps. In two months I shall have a mitral valve replaced by an ace surgical team, most of them half my age, which, assuming success, which of course I do, opens the door to my reaching the age of 97, my mother’s ultimate age, or 101, my editor Roger Angell’s, which would let me see more of the future than I was counting on, a very happy thought.

I’ve been a writer since my mitral valve problem got me excused from football when I was 14 and instead of enduring humiliation at the hands of bigger boys, I wrote sports for the Anoka Herald and my aunt Eleanor read my stuff and said it was good. My parents believed that praising their children would encourage the sin of pride so they didn’t but my aunt took it as her auntly duty, and she was my most athletic aunt and most literate, and she was a force in my life. I’ve never gone to a shrink, I just sit down and write, and this is a gift, along with the blood thinner and the anti-seizure meds and the woman on the porch.

So I’ve canceled my 80th birthday party in August, to which I would’ve invited all 494 of you, because I don’t want COVID to get in the way of the valve replacement that can send me tap-tap-tapping into my nineties. I’m a happy man of simple tastes. If you offered me some super sex, I’d be happy with the soup.

 

Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

I know, I grew up in a women’s world, the kitchen, and it was great fun. These were Midwestern Christian women but once they got loose of their men, they were funny and loved cooking and tidying up, while the men did the hard work, which was conversing with their sons-in-law.

So don’t give me any cologne, my darlings. Honor your mother who endured excruciating misery and the cruel hands of male obstetricians while your old man watched TV and ate Chinese takeout.

I’m not the man my father John was. He built the house I grew up in, dug the basement, poured concrete, raised the walls, did the plumbing, planted a lawn and garden. I find it challenging to put up a pup tent on flat ground. He was a farm boy. I was a compulsive reader. I put in my time hoeing corn but I gravitated to a nest under the stairs where I read novels and poetry. To my father it was almost as if I were styling around in high heels and nylons. I regret the unhappiness I caused him. We never bonded until he was dying and I brought my little daughter to see him and they bonded instantly, she delighted him, and I got in on her ticket.

Things are different now. Traveling around last week, in and out of airports, it was touching to observe the gentleness of young fathers with small children, their sweetness and patience, a far cry from the brusque tyrants of old. In my boyhood, daddies weren’t cuddlers, they were the warden, chief critic, executive, and it was beautiful to see up close a young dad with a weepy infant in arms and two rambunctious toddlers, speaking kindly to his offspring as he installed them in a row, comforting, encouraging, coaxing. Back in my day, dads were enforcers of high standards to which their children aspired but inevitably failed leaving an embittered pater consoling himself with a bottle of Scotch, and now a loving style of fatherhood predominates. This bodes well for humanity.

Nonetheless, it strikes me as wasteful to set aside a Sunday in June to honor ejaculation. Put fatherhood together with motherhood for Mom & Dad Day in May and maybe start a new day in June in honor of underlings, minions, employees, offspring, in recognition of the fact that leaders learn from people below them on the organization chart. Many clerks have brought up their bosses to be decent human beings. I’ve learned a great deal from fan letters, e.g., what they omit. There is nothing so instructive as standing in front of a group of people you’re supposed to teach. You learn about comedy from listening to the laughter. Parenting skills are taught by small children.

Maybe on Underling Day you’d turn society upside down and put the inmates in charge of the asylum. I don’t know. When I divorced his mother, my son, who was seven, said, “Why can’t you and Mom take turns being right?” I still haven’t answered that question.

 

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

July 10, 2022

Sunday incl LIVESTREAM

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others. LIVE STREAM AVAILABLE

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

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

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, 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

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled 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

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

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

August 20, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Friends (Fred Newman, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Richard Kriehn & Dan Magraw) bring their show to Big Top Chautauqua for a performance of night of laughter, song and The News from Lake Wobegon.

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

October 13, 2022

Thursday

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

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

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

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

Pearl S. Buck was born on this day in 1892. A child of Christian missionaries, raised in China, her novel “The Good Earth” has become a classic.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

Anne Frank’s diary was published on this day in 1947. “It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

Poet Stephen Dunn was born on this day in 1939. He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection “Different Hours” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Today I have so much to do/I must kill memory once and for all/I must turn soul to stone/I must learn to live again”–Russian poet Anna Akhmatova born in Odessa in 1889.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It was on this day in 1944 that the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 became law — a law better known as the GI Bill.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

“My ideal state as a reader when I’m reading other people is feeling I’m vaguely wasting my time when I’m not reading that novel.”–Novelist Ian McEwan, born in Aldershot, England (1948).

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 20, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 20, 2022

Today is the birthday of Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952), author of “A Suitable Boy”, the longest single-volume work of fiction in English since 1747.

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Writing

Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

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A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

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Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

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Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

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Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

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The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

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Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

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Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

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What we know is not nearly enough

Of the ten worst mass shootings in America in recent history, five have taken place in Texas, so it was brave of Governor Abbott to go to Uvalde after the massacre of nineteen fourth-graders by an 18-year-old high school dropout with two newly bought AR-15s who had a whole hour to kill the kids and two teachers. The grief of a gun-lobby governor seemed rather thin but he went because he had to.

The hour delay between the first call to 911 and the shooting of the shooter was not explained in the media. A team of three Border Patrol troopers, carrying a ballistic shield, broke into the classroom at last and the shooter was exterminated.

Videos from Uvalde showed scores of heavily armed cops walking around, bearing assault rifles, bulky in their armored vests, even an armored vehicle outside the Robb Elementary School. For a moment I thought it was a scene from Ukraine, but no.

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Time to head for the graveyard and pay respects

Memorial Day is soon upon us, a day that is personal to veterans of foreign wars and rather abstract to us freeloaders and draft dodgers, and seldom the twain shall meet, but this Day is one of those occasions. I speak as one who got a notice from my draft board to report for induction back in 1967 and I wrote to them and said I was opposed to the war and wouldn’t go, and somehow the matter disappeared and the FBI never knocked on my door.

A classmate of mine, Henry Hill, died in Vietnam, in Quang Ngai, at the age of 24, a star athlete and class president, a first lieutenant, infantry commander, died of multiple fragmentation wounds, and I think, “The Army was unable to turn this guy into a deadly killer. He thought he was still on the football team.” I don’t feel responsible for Henry’s death, I think Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey were, and plenty of others who knew what was going on.

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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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