The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 25, 2022


Advice from a Raindrop
by Kim Stafford

You think you’re too small
to make a difference? Tell me
about it. You think you’re
helpless, at the mercy of forces
beyond your control? Been there.

Think you’re doomed to disappear,
just one small voice among millions?
That’s no weakness, trust me. That’s
your wild card, your trick, your
implement. They won’t see you coming

until you’re there, in their faces, shining,
festive, expendable, eternal. Sure you’re
small, just one small part of a storm that
changes everything. That’s how you win,
my friend, again and again and again.

 

Kim Stafford, “Advice from a Raindrop” from Singer Come From Afar. Copyright © 2021 by Kim Stafford. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Red Hen Press. www.redhen.org


On this date in the year 240 B.C.E. Chinese astronomers noted the earliest recorded sighting of Halley’s comet at perihelion — its closest approach to the sun. Of course it wasn’t called Halley’s comet then; it wasn’t given that name until the 18th century when English astronomer Edmond Halley first speculated that similar comets observed in 1531, 1607, and 1682 were probably actually the same comet returning at regular intervals. He predicted its return and, though he didn’t live to see it, his prediction was correct: the comet returned on Christmas Day, 1758 — the year he had predicted.

Counting back through the years based on Halley’s computation, researchers deduced that the comet described in the Shih Chi and Wen Hsien Thung Khao chronicles must have been the same one. It was recorded again in 164 B.C.E. and 87 B.C.E., on Babylonian clay tablets. Its most famous appearance was probably in 1066, just a few months before the Norman Invasion of England. And the comet curiously bracketed Mark Twain’s life: it appeared in 1835, the year Twain was born. In 1909 he said: “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.” He died on April 21, 1910, one day after the comet reached perihelion.

Halley’s comet has appeared in some famous works of art through the ages. It is portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry, woven in the 11th century. It also appears as the Star of Bethlehem in Giotto’s The Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1305.


It’s the birthday of poet Theodore Roethke (books by this author), born in Saginaw, Michigan (1908). He kept dozens of notebooks with thoughts and lines of verse in them; his pockets were always filled with notes about snatches of conversations that he had heard. He was an immensely popular teacher at various colleges, including Penn State, Bennington, and the University of Washington. His works include The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948), Praise to the End! (1951), and I Am! Says the Lamb (1961). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his poetry collection The Waking.

He said, “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”


Today is the birthday of philosopher, poet, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author). He was born in Boston in 1803. His father’s unmarried sister, Mary Moody Emerson, was a great influence on him. She wasn’t formally educated but she was sharp and she was widely read. She introduced young Waldo, as he was called, to a wide variety of philosophies and spiritual beliefs, including the Hindu scriptures that he would return to in later years, and it was from her that he got many of the aphorisms he passed on to his children, like “Always do what you are afraid to do,” and “Despise trifles,” and “Oh, blessed, blessed poverty.” He entered Harvard at 14 and began keeping journals, which he called his “savings bank;” when he became friends with Thoreau in 1837 he suggested that Thoreau, too, might benefit from keeping a journal.

In his book Nature (1836) Emerson first introduced the concept of Transcendentalism — the idea that spiritual truth could be gained by intuition rather than by established doctrine or text — and he would become a leader of that movement. He was a popular public speaker and gave more than 1,500 speeches in his lifetime.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment…” and “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”


Today is the birthday of short-story writer and novelist Raymond Carver (books by this author), born in Clatskanie, Oregon (1938). He grew up in Yakima, Washington, and when he was a little boy he was prone to running off when the family would go to town. “Well, of course I had to keep him on a leash,” his mother said of her son. His nickname was “Frog,” and this would end up being prophetic: he spent nearly all of his adult life hopping from city to city, mostly in California.

He got married right out of high school to his 16-year-old girlfriend, Maryann Burk. They had a couple of kids and he took a series of low-paying jobs. A creative writing class he took at Chico State College in California sparked his interest in fiction. He went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and, later, working as a night janitor in a hospital, he began writing stories about the working poor: people who lived paycheck to paycheck and whose livelihoods depended on whether their old cars would start so they could get to work. “I’m a paid-in-full member of the working poor,” he said. “I have a great deal of sympathy with them. They’re my people.” He was an alcoholic, like his father before him, but got sober in 1977. The following year he met poet and novelist Tess Gallagher. They fell in love and he left Maryann for her. They were together for 10 years, and eventually married in 1988; six weeks later Carver died of lung cancer. His epitaph comes from his poem “Late Fragment.” It reads:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.


It’s the birthday of novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid (books by this author) (1949), who first came to fame as a writer for The New Yorker’s popular “Talk of the Town” column. She worked there for more than 20 years before devoting herself full time to writing novels. Kincaid is the author of Annie John (1985), Lucy (1990), and Autobiography of My Mother (1996).

Kincaid was born Elaine Richardson in Antigua. Girls weren’t as valued as boys so most of her mother’s affection, and financial hopes went to Kincaid’s two brothers. Kincaid was reading by three and soon found a haven in books and became a voracious reader. One of her early favorites was Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. She said, “I read every sentence twice because I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.”

When she was a teenager, her mother shipped her off to New York where she worked as a nanny on the Upper East Side. She was so hurt by being sent away that she didn’t speak to her mother for several years and refused to send money home. Most of her books have strong autobiographical elements, like See Now Then (2013), a novel about a woman writer married to a famous magazine editor who has an affair. Kincaid herself was married for many years to Allen Shawn, the son of William Shawn, Kincaid’s former boss at The New Yorker. When asked how much of her fiction is from real life, Kincaid said, “People tend to blame a writer for writing something they’re too stupid to understand.”

On the joys of being a writer Kincaid said:

“When I start to write something, I suppose I want it to change me, to make me into something not myself. And while I’m doing it, I really have the feeling that this time, at the end of it, I will be other than myself. Of course, every time I end a book, I look down at myself and I’m just the same. I’m always disappointed that I’m just the same, but not enough to never do it again! I get right back up and I start something else, and I think this time — this time — I really will be transformed into something other than this tawdry, ordinary thing, sitting on the bed and drinking cold coffee. When I write a book, I hope to be beyond mortal by the time I’m finished.”

 

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


Rest in Peace, Butch Thompson

 

The most elegant gentleman to come out of Minnesota, Mr. Butch Thompson, died yesterday in St. Paul. He picked up the New Orleans spirit listening to Jelly Roll Morton 78s and carried it through the 20th into the 21st century. He was a pianist and a clarinetist, the piano for the bounce, the clarinet for the blues, and if he could've he would've played both at the same time. We worked together for years, a quiet man, and I never knew him except through his music. God bless the memory, God preserve the music.

–GK

Born and raised in Marine-on-St. Croix, a small Minnesota river town, Butch Thompson was playing Christmas carols on his mother’s upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior.

After high school, he joined the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band of Minneapolis, and at 18 made his first visit to New Orleans, where he became one of the few non-New Orleanians to perform at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and ’70s.

In 1974, he joined the staff as the house pianist of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. By 1980, the show was nationally syndicated, and the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, a position the group held for the next six years.

From the early days on APHC, Butch remembers, “It was pretty casual back then. Margaret or somebody would call me and ask if I was busy on Saturday. More than once I remember saying I couldn’t get there by showtime, and being told to show up as soon as I could. Sometimes I’d go onstage without remembering what key something was in. If Garrison was going to sing, I usually couldn’t go wrong with E major.”

By the late ’90s, Thompson was known as a leading authority on early jazz. He served as a development consultant on the 1992 Broadway hit Jelly’s Last Jam, which starred Gregory Hines. He also joined the touring company of the off-Broadway hit Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, playing several runs with that show in New York and other cities through 1997.

The Village Voice described Butch’s music as “beguiling piano Americana from an interpreter who knows that Bix was more than an impressionist and Fats was more than a buffoon.”

 


 

 

Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

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.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

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

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

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A new day dawns and we rise cheerfully to meet it

There is a magnificent Presbyterian church in New York being hassled by its neighbors who’re tired of the scaffolding that’s been standing for fifteen years. The scaffolding is there because the building is falling apart, and the little congregation is dwindling and can’t afford the repairs. They’d like to sell the property and let the buyers demolish the church and put up a 19-story condo tower. But the Landmark Commission doesn’t want this building, a landmarked 1890 Romanesque Revival masterpiece, to be replaced by a filing cabinet. Meanwhile attendance is fading because who wants to go to church and be struck by a fifty-pound chunk of sandstone?

I favor demolition. There is nothing holy about a building, the Holy Spirit moves freely in and out of buildings, people can feel God’s grace wherever they happen to be. If the building were preserved and sold to Pizza Hut and ovens placed where the altar used to be and the organ automated to play Metallica and Black Sabbath, how does this serve the common good?

Tear it down before it kills somebody. Time moves on, so move with it.

I say this as a very old man who is not landmarked but doing my best to avoid demolition. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, said the apostle Paul, and so far, the temple is intact. Some days I feel like sixty and sometimes I’m closer to fifteen. I have no idea what eighty would feel like. I use a cane only as an affectation: it makes me feel European.

I know I’m on the last stretch, but I intend it to be a cheerful stretch. I am married to the woman I love and after three years of pandemic isolation with her, I adore her. This desert island suits me. But she is more sociable, so we need to ease back into normal life and have people over for lunch, maybe take up cribbage, go bowling, attend lectures where you break up into discussion groups, those sorts of things. I sense her restlessness. Sometimes she goes into the back bedroom, and I hear peals of girlish laughter, shrieks of delight, as she talks to friends on the phone — does it make me jealous? Yes, of course.

We need to befriend younger people. I’ve gone to birthday parties for octos and heard all about someone’s prostate problems or kidney stones and hip replacements and of course colonoscopies. I’ve been colonoscopied and it was no big deal. Yes, the liquid you drink the day before tastes like used motor oil. But so what? I choose to be cheerful. Let’s talk about happy memories such as the narrow pews in my church, which, when I twist to kneel on the kneeler, reminds me of the girl I used to neck with in the back seat of her VW.

Sometimes I regret my old age but then I think of my dear friend who died when he and I were 17. He rented a boat and went out on a lake with a girl he was in love with and when she dove into the water, he dove after her, forgetting that he could not swim, and he drowned. He got only a slice of life, he missed out on sex and fatherhood and the pleasure of vocation, and I got the whole helping and await seconds.

So many heroes of my generation died young, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis, Jerry, Elvis. They were done in by celebrity and delusion and you and I outlived them to come to this point where we delight in the ordinary. I lie in bed and am awakened by the light and rise up to the new day and do my business and drink coffee and my wife tells me what’s in the morning paper and I go for a walk and people ask me how I’m doing, and I say, “Never better.” I sit in the evening drinking ginger tea and watching baseball with the sound off, two teams I don’t care about, and I edit whatever I wrote today while admiring the pitcher’s windup, the reflexive agility of infielders, the occasional long loping leaping outfield catch that steals a triple and kills the rally and the fielder casually tosses the ball into the stands and trots to the dugout.

Tear down the stone pile. Sell the lots for millions and give it to the poor. Let the faithful meet in someone’s home, as the disciples did. A new day dawns. Don’t look back.

 

I am an orphan and an officeless man

I miss having an office to go to. I had friendly colleagues and employees, and we were in the entertainment biz so we got to work with a lot of lulus and lunatics and we kept flexible hours and laughed a lot. I liked that we were in the business of making serious people split a gut. I also liked getting dressed up for work in a suit and tie, which you need to do when you’re involved with frivolity. Now I go to work in my pajamas at the dining room table. I don’t know if “clothes make the man” but I know that pajamas do not make the man. They make me feel like going back to bed.

I loved walking in the front door in the morning at 9 a.m., the way the receptionist straightened up and smiled, the electric anticipation among the minions that the captain was on deck, the ship was about to sail. I don’t sense that same excitement in my wife when I walk into the kitchen in my pajamas. She says, “Your hair is standing up like a rooster’s and I think you should check your left nostril.”

At the office, I was the Decider. I sat at the end of the table and I told the staff: “No more singing dogs on the show and the one tuba player who played ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is enough: no more. I think we need a midget shot from a cannon and an acrobatic couple who work with two Percherons. And I say you can never have too many cat jugglers. The guy we booked who could keep six in the air simultaneously was a genius. Pay him whatever he asks.”

My staff was a bunch of college grads who thought in terms of jazz, folk, poetry, the arts, and didn’t understand the entertainment biz. They didn’t know raison d’être from a box of raisins. Art is art. You see a woman in a tutu swanning around, you think, “Everyone is so quiet, this must be good, I should be deeply moved.” You hear a folksinger do a traditional labor ballad, you feel like there’s going to be a quiz afterward. But you hear a man recite Allen Ginsberg backward while balancing a banana on his nose, and he finishes with “generation my of minds best the seen I’ve” and his pants fall down, you are stunned and delighted. And that’s entertainment. Now the biz has been taken over by angry millennials who’re out to use entertainment to make people feel wretched about themselves for the social injustices they failed to prevent. That’s why I left.

One of my favorite acts was a full-blooded Arapaho named Joe who danced and sang and twirled ropes and for a finale, he stood looking in a hand mirror at the stooge sitting fifty feet behind and he threw a tomahawk over his left shoulder and knocked the toupee off the stooge’s head without drawing blood. People protested this as stereotyping and we had to cancel the act. How could it be stereotyping when Joe was the only guy who could do it without mishap?

I produced the show every week, sitting in a little office, no credenza, a photograph on the wall of me and Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime, except he wasn’t French, he didn’t know a word of French, that’s why he was a mime, he was from Pittsburgh and he did great jokes about Unitarians but they attacked him as insensitive so he turned to mime, which was very sensitive to the deaf.

I could feel the biz changing when my staff booked a stand-up who walked out and said, “You came here to laugh and be entertained, right? Well, guess again. I’m going to talk about the plastics you people use that are making this world uninhabitable.” He spoke for twenty minutes, no laughs, and got a standing ovation at the end. I resigned the next week.

So now I sit at my kitchen table, still in pajamas at noon, and the other day I found my talent as a musical flatulenteur. I ate an onion, grabbed my ankles, and farted “Malagueña” with enough left over for a few bars of “Chopsticks,” which you could never do today because it’d be insensitive to Hispanics and Chinese, but still, it’s a gift and I’m grateful for it.

 

Suddenly it's clear why I wanted to be old

I look at the Great Milky Way While inhaling the autumn bouquet At eventide And am mystified And simply don’t know what to say. I love this September chill in the air. I love sweaters. They hide the age wrinkles on my inner upper arms. A stocking cap means I don’t have to comb my hair. Delicate souls are yearning for Florida and maybe catch a temp job as a consumer influence consultant, enough to pay for a condo with a pool, but not me, I’m not into influence and Florida brings out the bad taste in people and nobody wants to see an old man in a thong bikini. So here I am. I like the coffee here. I’ve figured out how the shower works and no longer stand under scalding water because I turned the wrong knob; I don’t want to go to Florida and stay in a motel with a crank for a shower knob and be burned alive while naked. So I’ll stay up North. Here I take a shower, wrap a towel around me, walk into the bedroom and sing, “O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch.” In Florida, I’d go to the ER. The air is golden, smelling of wine and apples and woodsmoke. It takes me back to when I was 15, sitting in the press box and covering the football games for the Anoka Herald, my first paid writing job. And when I was 18 and a girl and I lay in a pile of leaves and made free with each other. Now I’m 80, the sky so clear I can see vast constellations, standing in the yard, aware of the universe and also smelling the rich spongy earth below my feet. An eternity of stars above, including stars that no longer exist but their light still comes to us, and I stand here in mystification, having unlearned so much of what I thought I knew about life, achieving this plain peasant life. It’s a second childhood. Someone told me the other day that “racecar” spelled backward is “racecar.” Amazing. This is why I quit drinking and got my mitral valve replaced, so I could see beyond the average life expectancy and it’s quite worth the wait, to live in a state of wonder. Writing prose is a form of gardening, which my dad was good at, especially strawberries and asparagus and tomatoes. Store-bought tomatoes tasted like cardboard to him. (Now they taste the same to me.) My aunts Josephine and Eleanor were passionate gardeners. If my essays were as good as their cucumbers and lettuce, I’d be a major success, but frankly I like being a struggling octogenarian up-and-comer. People show me deference because I walk with a cane, and that’s okay, but I live in a very small world. My heroes are dead, my ambition is quite awake, I don’t believe in tragedy anymore, I believe in mystery. I am mystified by my grandson and what an excellent human being he has become. He is a bulwark and an inspiration. I had two grandsons but the other one took his own life one afternoon after school. He was a lively inquisitive boy in love with all of nature, especially animals, and had the ability to retain practically everything he ever read, and he’s been gone for five years and I haven’t accepted his death. I will always be mystified by it, as I am by my childhood friend Corinne who paddled a canoe out onto Lake Cayuga one moonlit night in 1986, her pockets full of rocks, and overturned it and drowned. It was thirty-six years ago but still vivid to me, especially tonight. Memory is tied to smell and on a September night chapters of life return to mind, unbidden. I’ve forgotten most of the books I ever read. Theology is of no use to me. I’m a child; I believe “All things work together for good to them that love God.” As a boy I used outhouses and now I walk into a men’s toilet and pee in a urinal and step back and it automatically flushes. I walk around with a device in my pocket the size of a half-slice of bread and I can call my grandson for a report on Gen Z or read the Times or do a search for “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” It’s a sweet world. My beloved sent me out for a walk and here I am, going nowhere, looking at everything all at once.

Tempted to give up politics for Parcheesi

My mom admired FDR and Eleanor because they cared about the poor. My dad felt there was no such thing as a Depression, that anyone who wanted work could find it, that the WPA was relief for the lazy, We Poke Along. He maintained this view even after we pointed out that his first real job came from his uncle Lew who owned the Pure Oil station in town. Their difference of opinion never got in the way of their love for each other. Politics was far away; real life was up close and was all about family. Sometimes I’d find her sitting in his lap, the parents of six kissing. He was a little sheepish, she was not.

Sometimes I envy my parents’ close-up life. I sit every morning, a hard-hearted man scanning my email inbox, fending off the pitiful pleas of political candidates in tight races, falling behind with the fate of democracy itself in the balance, the future of the planet, but we’re losing (unthinkable!) to a weird opponent who believes COVID is a covert conspiracy of drug companies and is financed by tycoons who plan to relocate on Mars, the good candidate is only asking for a $10 contribution, he pleads, and I snip them off one by one, along with the fabulous 50% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY offers, and an African orphanage asking me to buy a $500 Apple gift certificate and forward it to this address to save kids from starvation. Out they go.

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 21, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to The Anthem in Washington D.C. with Ellie Dehn, Billy Collins, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and the Friendly String Quartet.

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

November 12, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

The Tabernacle, Mount Tabor, NJ

Mount Tabor, NJ

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Mount Tabor, NJ. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

November 19, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Clinton Township, MI

Clinton Township, MI

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, MI for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

November 26, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Town Hall, New York City

Town Hall, New York City

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Town Hall in New York City with Christine DiGiallonardo, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher and the Demitasse Orchestra, Rich Dworsky, Walter Bobbie, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

November 28, 2022

Monday

8:00 p.m.

McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA

Palm Desert, CA

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Palm Desert, CA for a performance of holiday songs, humor and The News from Lake Wobegon.

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

December 15, 2022

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO

St. Louis, MO

A Prairie Home Companion Christmas Show comes to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, MO with Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Dean Magraw, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

January 7, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, Torrance, CA

Torrance, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Torrance, CA. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

February 3, 2023

Friday

7:00 p.m.

The Holland Theatre, Bellefontaine, OH

Bellefontaine, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Bellefontaine, OH 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 Friday, September 30, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 30, 2022

On this day in 1452, the first section of the Gutenberg Bible was finished in Mainz, Germany, by the printer Johannes Gutenberg. On this day in 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s two-act opera The Magic Flute premiered at the Freihaus Theater in the composer’s hometown of Vienna, Austria. And, it’s the birthday of author Truman Capote, born in 1924 and best known for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 29, 2022

Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was born in London on this day in 1810. Elizabeth Gaskell was close friends with novelist Charlotte Brontë, the author of Jane Eyre. After Brontë died, Gaskell wrote the biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), which many scholars now consider a definitive work.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Today is the birthday of scrivener and alchemist Nicholas Flamel, who was born on the outskirts of Paris in the year 1300 to a poor but respectable family. He and his wife Pernelle were thought to have discovered an elixir of life. He has been enshrined in modern memory by the Harry Potter books, which feature the Flamel’s as friends of Albus Dumbledore in the book “The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

“Artists are nourished more by each other than by fame or by the public. To give one’s work to the world is an experience of peculiar emptiness. The work goes away from the artist into a void, like a message stuck into a bottle and flung into the sea.” – writer Joyce Johnson, born on this day in 1935.

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Writing

A new day dawns and we rise cheerfully to meet it

There is a magnificent Presbyterian church in New York being hassled by its neighbors who’re tired of the scaffolding that’s been standing for fifteen years. The scaffolding is there because the building is falling apart, and the little congregation is dwindling and can’t afford the repairs. They’d like to sell the property and let the buyers demolish the church and put up a 19-story condo tower. But the Landmark Commission doesn’t want this building, a landmarked 1890 Romanesque Revival masterpiece, to be replaced by a filing cabinet. Meanwhile attendance is fading because who wants to go to church and be struck by a fifty-pound chunk of sandstone?

I favor demolition. There is nothing holy about a building, the Holy Spirit moves freely in and out of buildings, people can feel God’s grace wherever they happen to be. If the building were preserved and sold to Pizza Hut and ovens placed where the altar used to be and the organ automated to play Metallica and Black Sabbath, how does this serve the common good?

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I am an orphan and an officeless man

I miss having an office to go to. I had friendly colleagues and employees, and we were in the entertainment biz so we got to work with a lot of lulus and lunatics and we kept flexible hours and laughed a lot. I liked that we were in the business of making serious people split a gut. I also liked getting dressed up for work in a suit and tie, which you need to do when you’re involved with frivolity. Now I go to work in my pajamas at the dining room table. I don’t know if “clothes make the man” but I know that pajamas do not make the man. They make me feel like going back to bed.

I loved walking in the front door in the morning at 9 a.m., the way the receptionist straightened up and smiled, the electric anticipation among the minions that the captain was on deck, the ship was about to sail. I don’t sense that same excitement in my wife when I walk into the kitchen in my pajamas. She says, “Your hair is standing up like a rooster’s and I think you should check your left nostril.”

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Suddenly it’s clear why I wanted to be old

I love this September chill in the air. I love sweaters. They hide the age wrinkles on my inner upper arms. A stocking cap means I don’t have to comb my hair. Delicate souls are yearning for Florida and maybe catch a temp job as a consumer influence consultant, enough to pay for a condo with a pool, but not me, I’m not into influence and Florida brings out the bad taste in people and nobody wants to see an old man in a thong bikini. So here I am. I like the coffee here. I’ve figured out how the shower works and no longer stand under scalding water because I turned the wrong knob; I don’t want to go to Florida and stay in a motel with a crank for a shower knob and be burned alive while naked. So I’ll stay up North. Here I take a shower, wrap a towel around me, walk into the bedroom and sing, “O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch.” In Florida, I’d go to the ER.

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Tempted to give up politics for Parcheesi

My mom admired FDR and Eleanor because they cared about the poor. My dad felt there was no such thing as a Depression, that anyone who wanted work could find it, that the WPA was relief for the lazy, We Poke Along. He maintained this view even after we pointed out that his first real job came from his uncle Lew who owned the Pure Oil station in town. Their difference of opinion never got in the way of their love for each other. Politics was far away; real life was up close and was all about family. Sometimes I’d find her sitting in his lap, the parents of six kissing. He was a little sheepish, she was not.

Sometimes I envy my parents’ close-up life. I sit every morning, a hard-hearted man scanning my email inbox, fending off the pitiful pleas of political candidates in tight races, falling behind with the fate of democracy itself in the balance, the future of the planet, but we’re losing (unthinkable!) to a weird opponent who believes COVID is a covert conspiracy of drug companies and is financed by tycoons who plan to relocate on Mars, the good candidate is only asking for a $10 contribution, he pleads, and I snip them off one by one, along with the fabulous 50% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY offers, and an African orphanage asking me to buy a $500 Apple gift certificate and forward it to this address to save kids from starvation. Out they go.

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What was so remarkable about Monday

Nobody does royal funerals so beautifully as the Brits and an American watches with awe the long procession toward the chapel at Windsor Castle, the precision left/right stroll of the Grenadiers alongside the hearse, the horsemen behind, the bemedaled notaries and royal descendants and then, having come through narrow arches into the courtyard, the hearse stops, the rear door opens, and the eight uniformed pallbearers do a side-shuffle march to take hold of the coffin and lift it to their shoulders and take it up the steps. No simple task but they do it precisely and a stately silence prevails except on TV where American reporters venture speculation about a woman whose job was to be a mystery and who did it very well.

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October is coming, prepare to be bold

She told me out of the blue that she adores me. I was there, in a chair, listening; she was standing by the grandfather clock. She didn’t sing it but she said it clearly. This should answer any remaining questions. But Mister Malaise and Madam Miasma are ever on our trail, skulking in woodlands and meadows, waylaying the vulnerable, requiring us to drink discouragement and despair, and they got me a few days ago, two weeks after mitral valve replacement, walking tall in Transitional Care, transitioning back to normal life when I was hit (in the time it takes to tell it) by abject weakness, dizziness, nausea, and had to be locked up in hospital and tubes put in my arms for blood and antibiotics, and then released in a weakened semi-invalid state. It’s a lousy feeling. I look out at Minneapolis and imagine it’s Odessa, which it is not. I worry the Swiss banks will fail. Water mains will burst. Bacon will be banned, leaving us with vegan substitute.

The body wants to heal and it has felicitous intuitions how to go about doing it but meanwhile I ache and shuffle around like an old grampa and hike the hallways and work at maintaining a cheerful outlook (false). My wife is a worrier and when we promised to love and honor each other 27 years ago, diarrhea and vomiting weren’t mentioned in detail, so I walk carefully.

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What if it does and they do?

Sea levels are rising as the polar ice caps melt and now it’s clear why Republicans are in favor of global warming, it’s a form of gerrymandering. It destroys the Democratic coasts and drives disheartened Manhattanites westward to wander lost and confused in Ohio, their sophistication shredded, their street smarts useless. The Obamas will lose their place on Cape Cod and move to Omaha. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez will wind up in Topeka and go back to bartending. The fashion industry will move to Des Moines and polyester plaids will make a big comeback. Broadway will, of course, settle in Oklahoma –– where else?

My love and I live on the 12th floor of a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which won’t be so upper much longer and so we’re thinking of buying a kayak so we can still make it to Zabar’s when the streets are flooded. We’ll paddle around the little islands that used to be Central Park and the Belvedere Castle to look in the Guggenheim, which will be turned into a water slide, and when Zabar’s closes with its fabulous cheese section where a shopper gains weight simply by inhaling, then we’ll order a chopper to lift us off the roof and wave goodbye to the old life and be flown to Pittsburgh to fly back to Minnesota. One chapter ends, another begins.

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Never been such times as these before, I swear

It’s good for your breathing, the deep breaths you must draw at the systemic shamelessness of Mar-il-Legal, the casual heist of government stuff, the FBI arriving to take away the top-secret documents and all, the refusal by the Former to acknowledge error, his wholesale abuse of the FBI, and then the weaselish dictum by the Trump judge to hold the DOJ at bay, it was breathtaking, like watching a hippo climb a tree.

The sorting of material, separating articles of clothing from top-secret documents into their own piles, seems to be a problem for DJT, according to the FBI. Surely the man’s valet puts the socks in the sock drawer and not with the golf balls and cheeseburgers, but in his official dealings DJT seems prone to chaos.

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Lying in bed, grateful for it all

A week in hospital has brought me back to an appreciation of Jell-O, scrambled eggs, mac and cheese, the banana, food that is beyond criticism. There is no such thing as a deluxe banana. The best mac and cheese you ever had was not significantly better than the worst. My beloved disagrees. She is somehow repelled by Jell-O, perhaps she thinks if you eat it you’ll wind up living in a trailer park. To me, Jell-O is what it is, Jell-O. My dad lived in a trailer park and loved it; I think it gave him a sense of imminent mobility. Hitch up the tow, let’s go to Orlando.

My beloved has some Swedish ruminants in her ancestry whereas I have coyotes in mine. The ruminants had a taste for savory weeds and the coyotes only ate weeds to get the taste of chicken feather out of their mouths. Somehow we’ve made a happy marriage out of this.

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What was done for me back in Minnesota

There is vast kindness in this world and right now I am resting in it, astonished by it, a man who in the space of 48 hours went through an ablation procedure to calm wild heart arrhythmia and then a heart valve replacement and a valve repair. I climbed aboard the gurney for the first procedure, an adult male of 80, and was borne away from the second in an infantile state, helpless, somewhat hallucinatory, a disastrous life change for a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and through it all I was aware of the young women and men in blue scrubs who were at my side, making friendly small talk while checking tubes and adjusting pillows. They asked me to squeeze their hands, wiggle my fingers, look into a bright light, push up against their hand pulling my foot down, smile, raise my eyebrows, follow their finger with my eyes, and when I did they said, “Awesome,” “Fantastic,” “Excellent.” I said, “A person doesn’t have to do much to win praise around here” and they laughed. It was the only useful thing I could do, make them laugh, so I became a lie-down comedian, interpreting literally what they said: “Oh, we are going to have a bowel movement now? Fine, you go first and I’ll watch and see how it’s done.”

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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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